Last Saturday, the EULRFC 1st XV entered BT Murrayfield Stadium for their first run out of the season. Shorn of six regulars, including three full internationals, they faced their bitter rivals, St Andrews. So, when they left the pitch an hour later with a 53-5 victory, starting off an incredible evening for Edinburgh University rugby in which the men’s team also beat the Saints 31-7, they must have been elated.
However, this is by no means the peak for this team. In fact, their coach, Claire Cruikshank, speaks of it as just another match, calling it “a good benchmark to see where we are at the start of the season and to see some of the structures we have been putting in place.”
This is meant to show no disrespect to St Andrews, who showed great fight, but Cruikshank and her team have set their sights on bigger prizes. They hope to emulate last season’s success when they hit unprecedented heights by becoming BUCS champions in both the 15 and seven-a-side game.
This goal meant that none of the squad could rest on their laurels and they returned at the beginning of August eager to undertake a fierce preseason programme. After Saturday’s victory, they begin their Sarah Beaney Scottish Cup campaign against Howe of Fife on 1 October, hoping to spread their success beyond university level with a successful run. Then their BUCS season begins with a tough fixture against Loughborough on the 4 October.
Cruikshank is aware of the challenges that face them now that they are the champions and knows teams will be aiming to knock them off their perch. She says, “I have no doubt the BUCS competition will be the strongest it has ever been this season. So, to retain the BUCS title will be more challenging than winning it last season. We are the champions this year, which is a very different type of pressure and we have to learn how to deal with that.”
This challenge is not helped by many of the English teams linking up with the RFU’s Tyrells Premier 15s competition which has led to many of the universities recruiting a number of players onto courses from that. This makes Cruikshank highlight their first opponents, Loughborough, as a threat while she also predicts challenges from their old foes of Northumbria and Durham.
This will not stop Edinburgh from trying to play their own game and impose themselves on the opposition. Cruikshank says, “We like to play a fast game, we have players who are very skilful and quick so we always aim to get as many players on the ball as possible. Over the season, we will aim to develop our structures and become more clinical and effective in everything we do.”
Away from the first team, the club is starting to develop a promising strength in depth as they aim to build a squad full of quality. The 2nd team were only created last year but have already been set the target of pushing for promotion as many of the players have experience of playing for the 1st team at various points.
Cruikshank is also keen to spread the enjoyment of rugby amongst women at the university and is keen to use the success on the pitch to help build a strong club. She says, “We want to get more people involved in representative rugby but also ensure we have a vibrant and successful club and recreational programme. That is why we are looking at potentially a 3rd XV and the introduction of the Scottish Rugby’s Tartan Touch programme. We have had close to 100 people at training which is just unreal.”
Hopefully the numbers will continue to turn up and the club will grow over the coming season and beyond. The 1st XV have laid down their marker and, based on Saturday’s evidence, are unlikely to give their crown up lightly. They will be striving to better the incredible and take the club into a new era of dominance in Scottish university sport.
Image courtesy of Claire Cruikshank