On Saturday evening, the oldest varsity in the world returns for another instalment. Edinburgh and St Andrews have been battling each other for bragging rights since the 1860s, fighting for the title of best university rugby club in Scotland.
However, since the fixture’s resurrection in 2011, it is St Andrews who have proved the dominant side. For four years in succession Edinburgh have been beaten by their biggest rivals on the grandest stage. But this year there is a different feeling to this great event: Edinburgh are the favourites.
This is not to put unwanted pressure on the men in green when they march onto the pitch on Saturday night in front of thousands of passionate fans. They are a team on the rise, boosted by back-to-back promotions into the Premier North B where they will now be playing against the best that Manchester and Birmingham have to offer.
Nick Stephen, a stalwart of four years of first-team rugby and captain of the Edinburgh side, suggests that this gives them the best chance of winning varsity since he has been part of the squad. “It’s a definite advantage. This is St Andrews’ toughest challenge of the season, whereas we know we will have to play better than we do on Saturday to survive in our league.”
They have also come off the back of a tough pre-season programme, the longest that Stephen has experienced in his time here, which saw them return to Edinburgh in mid-August.
When asked what has been different at pre-season this year, Stephen said: “It has focused more on rugby skills than the gym or fitness, which with any luck means we should be better prepared for the game on Saturday.”
The results have already been evident in their three matches to date. They have recorded three victories with the most impressive being a hard-fought 24-19 win over a strong Durham side away from home, sealed by a last-minute try.
This shows the talent and the steel that this side hold and they will be hoping to continue their winning run through Saturday and into the new season.
However, Saturday is not a league match but represents a one-off challenge that none of this team have ever succeeded in, with Edinburgh’s last victory in the fixture coming before any of them joined the university.
Stephen agrees that this will make St Andrews confident of another win but is quick to point out that “we beat them twice away from home last year and so have a belief that we can beat them now, which we maybe didn’t have before.”
Their task will not be an easy one, though, as St Andrews will come to Edinburgh determined to knock the home team off their perch.
Having been beaten to the North A title by Edinburgh last year, they are now left looking up at their rivals in the hierarchy of the BUCS leagues. But they possess a fast and physical style, much like the one that Edinburgh try to play, and will not give up without a fight.
As a burly Yorkshireman, Stephen relishes the physicality of the challenge and is expecting a busy day personally, highlighting the strength of the opposition’s back-row and centres who will be looking to keep him occupied.
But most of all, he is looking forward to the atmosphere of the stadium on Saturday evening. “Not only is it a career highlight for those playing,” Stephen said, “it is not an opportunity many of us are likely to get again. But also for the fans it is an event like no other, where you can get behind your university, have a couple of drinks with your friends and have a great day out.”
It is for this reason that thousands will flock to Murrayfield on Saturday night, with tickets available from the Scottish Varsity website at www.scottishvarsitymatch.com for a mere five pounds.
This also gains access to the women’s varsity, which takes place just before the men’s, and where Edinburgh will be aiming to back up their 97-0 victory from last year and are sure to produce another masterclass.
Whatever the outcome on the night, it promises to be a fiercely contested battle from start to finish with each collision fought over, each set piece roared on and each try celebrated with wild euphoria as players and fans alike burst with pride at representing their university.
So, come along, bring your mates, cheer on your team and dream of victory. It will not be an evening to miss.