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Image of Simon Davies and Dave Spelman

Meet the Jesuan men playing in the Varsity rugby match

This year's Women's Varsity rugby match is being held for the first time ever at Twickenham Stadium, alongside the Men’s Varsity rugby match. Two Jesuan men and three Jesuan women are playing. Find out more about Simon Davies (2013, left) and Dave Spelman (2015, right).

Simon Davies, 21, Chemical Engineering, Jesus College

How did you become part of the Cambridge University Men’s rugby team?
I was involved with the U21s in my first two years at Cambridge, but I struggled with injury so I didn't do a lot. I then played in the U21 Varsity match at Twickenham last year and moved up to the extended Blues squad after Christmas, when a lot of the Blues couldn't play so there was a chance for some younger guys like me to play. I've been in the squad for the whole season, and now I’m playing in the Varsity match.

What have you been doing to prepare for the Varsity match?
Over summer we each had our own personalised programme from the new strength and conditioning coaches, which involved about four to five gym or fitness sessions a week with rehab on top of that. Then we had a preseason trip to Spain which was brutal from a fitness point of view, with about three sessions a day (one technical, one rehab/weights, one fitness). It was pretty tough, but a good chance to meet the new coach and all the new players coming in.

Have you checked out the Oxford team? How do you think the match will go?
Not really to be honest. Our coach has had a look at the way they play so we prepare for that a bit, and I met a few of their guys when playing the Oxbridge U23 game, but we're mainly just focusing on our own game. We want to make sure we dictate the game, which hasn't really happened in the last few years when we’ve been much more focused on trying to react to what they do. From a result point of view I think we've got a very good shot this year. There's been a very strong influx of new players (Jamie Roberts being one of the highlights), and the team compared to last year seems greatly improved.

Do you play for the College as well as the University?
I played for College in first year and a little bit in second year as well. I haven't played this year as you're not allowed to if you've played a Blues game in the same week, and I've been a bit injury prone so I can't really afford to play two games a week. I’m still hoping to join in with Cuppers next term. The two main differences between College and Blues is the physicality of the people you're playing with and against, and the attention to detail. For College there's no real coaching or game plan, you just go out and have fun, whereas for the University it's obviously taken much more seriously. There's a lot more competition as well, so you have to make sure you keep performing and improving throughout the season, and a lot of the people you end up playing against are on professional contracts, so there's no room for error.

What do you think about the Women's Varsity rugby match being held at Twickenham this year?
It's obviously a great chance for the women to go out there and showcase women's rugby. It should also be a real boost to the Women's team, as the incentive of playing at Twickenham should encourage more people to join the club, and for new players to give rugby a go. It's also been good with the Men's and Women's clubs joining to be one club for this year, as we try to get down and support them as much as we can, which they do for us in return.

How long have you been playing rugby?
I've been playing rugby since I was six. My dad's always played, and he's Welsh so he took me down to London Welsh rugby club. I've got a couple of older brothers who both played as well, so it was very much a rugby household. I then carried on with London Welsh up to U18s, then played with the adult club during my gap year. I also played a lot of rugby at school.

Dave Spelman, 23, MPhil in Polar Studies, Jesus College

How long have you been playing rugby? What was your journey to becoming part of the team?
I’ve been playing rugby since I was six years old for the Old Silhillians RFC in the West Midlands. I gradually developed as a social player through school, and then at Durham University I was given the opportunity to play for England Students, which really helped me take my rugby up to the level needed to perform at Varsity. I always enjoyed and respected the fast flowing, dynamic rugby style of the Light Blues, having played against Cambridge for three years in their annual game versus Durham.

What have you been doing to prepare for the Varsity match?
I am really enjoying the challenge that this showcase event brings, I’ve always said that big players perform in the big matches, and they don’t get much bigger than this. There has been a fantastic focus in the club, and winning our last three games has really inspired a winning mentality in the team.

How do you think the match will go?
In recent years the stand-out characteristic of the Oxford team has been that they will not stop throwing everything they have at you for 80 minutes. This year appears to be no different, as they have a highly mobile pack with fast attacking backs and look to play an expansive running game. This Oxford side is as good as any of the teams from the past five years. That said, I’m convinced we have the talent and grit this year to take the win, but it will be close!

Do you play for the College as well as the University?
I am on a one year MPhil course in Polar Studies and therefore haven’t had the opportunity yet to play for the College side. I have been to see a couple of the matches, and the team’s passion for the game is always clear to see. I always get fantastic support from Jesus College grads and undergrads alike, and I hope to repay them by finding some time next term between academic commitments to contribute to the College team during Cuppers.

Tell me something I might not know about you, or about rugby.
Having played tight head prop for 13 years I know a thing or two about the ‘mysterious’ scrum. One thing you might not know is that if you come across a particularly heavy pack with a strong loose head you can actually be forced off the ground and out the top of the scrum, known as ‘popping’ a prop! Fortunately this a very rare occurrence as it is quite dangerous, and having been subjected to this many years ago at the hands of a Romanian international prop I can tell you it is a fairly unpleasant experience!

What do you think about 2015 being the first year there has been a Women's Varsity rugby match at Twickenham?
I think it’s fantastic that the Women’s team has this opportunity to showcase how far women’s student rugby has come over the past few years. The girls have a brilliant work ethic and a great club culture, I sincerely hope the Women’s match will inspire the next round of students to seriously consider taking up not just rugby but women’s sports at University.

Who is your sporting hero and why?
‘I continuously go further and further learning about my own limitations, my body limitation, psychological limitations. It's a way of life for me.’

Ayrton Senna’s attitude to competition, summed up in the above quotation, has inspired me to work through barriers and strive towards excellence. He was a sensationally talented driver, and he captivated the world with his characteristic daring, flamboyance, dedication and absurd bravery. Senna cared deeply about his country and giving everybody, no matter what background, the chance to go and achieve something great, and his country reciprocated in spades. A legend on and off the track, he was unfortunately taken from the world too early.

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