We’re extremely proud to have three Churchill College women playing rugby at university level! Earlier this month the hotly contested 2s & 3s Varsity matches took place with first-year undergrad Poppy Latimer playing for the Women’s 2s ‘Tigers’ and 2nd year vet medic Anyaise Green playing for the Women’s 3s ‘Jaguars’. On Saturday 25 March, it was the turn of third-year undergrad Amy Rees who stepped onto the pitch at Twickenham Stadium to take on rivals Oxford in the varsity blues match.

We met with Amy, Poppy and Anyaise to find out more about their experience at Churchill and all things rugby!

Meet Amy

Amy is a third-year law student from Harrogate. She was brought up with rugby constantly on in her house – her dad is a big Welsh rugby fan and her mum an English one – so when Amy was 11 and her school ran a taster session for girls rugby, she desperately wanted to try it out! As Amy recalls, ‘it was also the appeal of doing something new and different and I’ve played since then.’ When Amy was offered a place at Churchill College she was delighted to find it also had rugby pitches on-site and even better sports facilities than her original choice!

It sounds very cliché, but Churchill is genuinely one of the nicest spaces and one of the friendliest colleges. People are often surprised when I bring them here because we have a bit of a reputation for nothing but brutalist architecture, but the massive grounds and heated window seats are amazing! I’m in my final year, and I will seriously miss being in the Churchill community – I love being able to walk around college and just stop and chat to so many different people. To me, it has always felt like the college cares about its students, and it is just a lovely place to be.

The commitments required to play university level sport in a busy place like Cambridge are significant. Amy’s team trains three times a week, plays matches most Wednesdays and also has three gym sessions. On top of this, they record and analyse matches afterwards. As Amy explains, ‘it’s 100% the team which gets you through it – everyone is in a similar position and being around people who are so supportive and so passionate about the sport helps to keep the enthusiasm for rugby up, even when work deadlines are looming.’

There are no college teams for Women’s rugby, and the club also runs a development side – teaching rugby from complete beginner level. The commitment to play in the development team is much less than the blues, which means everyone can be involved without worrying about the commitment.

The financial support Amy receives through a College Participation Grant has also had important role to play in her participation. Playing a blues sport is a lot of fun but as Amy explains, it can also be incredibly expensive.

Rugby is one of the cheaper sports to play at Cambridge, as the yearly subs are subsidised by the club. Despite this, it is still expensive, and the Churchill sports grant makes being able to play possible. It was so convenient to apply for – just an application form signed by the Senior Treasurer of the rugby club. The grant has literally been the difference between being able to play and not – and I know from other members of the rugby club that so many colleges don’t make the process easy and are reluctant to pay more than a minimal amount.

Thinking back over the challenges she has faced, Amy recalls playing an away match against Exeter last year when the coach got lost so it was a 13 hour round trip and they ended up losing 110-0 (for the record, they should never have been in their BUCS league – they’re now in Super league rugby!). Amy tore a ligament in her shoulder in that match and had to sit on the bus back to Cambridge before getting it properly checked out. She ended up missing around four months of rugby which was difficult when so many of her friends were playing and all she wanted to do was get back on the pitch. Being able to play again after many hours of shoulder physio and extensive strapping is something Amy is justifiably very proud of, not least because her return coincided with a fantastic 24-0 win for the second team varsity match that year! On Saturday 25 March she played for the blues varsity team at Twickenham and hugely enjoyed the occasion, although the match ultimately ended in a 31-12 against their Oxford counterparts. Cambridge v Oxford is one of the oldest grudge matches in the history of rugby (Cambridge University Rugby Club literally predates the RFU)!

Looking ahead to next year, Amy is going to bar school and hopes to build a career working as a barrister. She’d also love to keep playing rugby as long as possible, as in her words, ‘women’s rugby is spreading so fast, and the network is so positive and inspiring.’

Meet Poppy

Poppy is a first-year undergraduate studying HSPS from South London. She started playing rugby when she began secondary school in Year 7 and decided to try something different by joining the girl’s afterschool rugby club. Poppy fell in love with the sport after one session and before long joined her local rugby club, Old Alleynians, which had a great girl’s section and has played rugby ever since. She played in the Varsity match for the Women’s 2 ‘Tigers’ on Sunday 12 March in an extremely tight contest. The final score was 15-19 to Oxford with 3 tries each, with Oxford pipping them to the post through their two conversions

When choosing a college to apply to, Churchill was one of the first that Poppy looked at. She wanted to go to a big college with lots of students and open space. She was also attracted by Churchill’s significant acceptance of state school students and felt this meant the College would have adequate support systems financially and academically. Poppy also fell in love with the accommodation and adores the window seats!

I love the friendly atmosphere in Churchill. I think I’ve settled into College and university life so well this year as a fresher because of the supportive and loving community that Churchill offers. Everyone here is so welcoming and willing to help and there is always someone to talk to if needed. I’ve only been in Cambridge for two terms, yet I feel I’ve made friends for life!

Poppy also trains three times a week and has matches most Wednesdays during Michaelmas term, requiring a significant amount of commitment. On top of training and matches they are also expected to complete three strength and conditioning sessions in the gym a week. Matches are also often away, travelling on a coach as far as Swansea and back which can take up the whole day. 

The financial support Poppy receives through the College’s sports participation grant has been incredibly helpful as it allowed her to pay for the costs of being part of the university rugby club. Club membership also provides access to a well-equipped rugby specific gym, excellent physio staff, and high-level coaching. Poppy is clear that she wouldn’t have been able to play rugby for the university without the financial support from the grant, as sports club membership is not something that’s included in student loan grants. 

Poppy is only in her first year, but after her studies she’d like to take a year out to go travelling. She’d then like to live abroad and possibly work for the UN.

Meet Anyaise

Anyaise is a second-year veterinary medicine student from Hull. She has always been a rugby fan and regularly goes to watch her local club when she’s at home with her family. Being from the north she was originally a rugby league player but since coming to Cambridge she’s had to make the change to union which was surprisingly not too bad once she got the hang of the rule differences! Anyaise played in the Varsity match for the Women’s 3 ‘Jaguars’ on Sunday 12 March and her team romped to victory against Oxford with a cracking 47-0 win!

Anyaise chose Churchill because of the high proportion of state school students, as she came from a state school background herself and she also loved the welcoming and friendly environment!

It has so many different people for all different backgrounds and has really made me feel at home in Cambridge- something as a state school student I was nervous about before coming here, but I really didn’t need to worry about that being at Churchill.

Churchill also gives Anyaise a full grant to cover her CURUFC membership subs enabling her to continue playing rugby and take advantage of the opportunities available.

After finishing her studies Anyaise plans to travel and hopefully work as a conservation vet. She also plans to continue keeping up with rugby of course!