The OxStu Sports team sat down with Oxford prop Lewis Anderson having recently achieved a record-breaking fifth successive Varsity Match win with the Blues, the only man to do so in 133 years of the competition, after a 43-6 demolition of Cambridge at Twickenham. Anderson, a 7th year DPhil student at Trinity College, hailing from Bexleyheath, started his Oxford career studying Classics at Univ, later undertaking two MSc’s at Trinity.
It’s been over a month since the team’s Victory over Cambridge. How were the team’s celebrations?
‘The celebrations were …uninhibited and ecstatic, I’d say, wonderful. The atmosphere in the changing room immediately after the game is indescribably joyous. When things calm down a bit, we recline in our bathtubs and mull over what happened. The year’s anxieties are unassailably discharged. Then we move on to the Oxford & Cambridge club for dinner, where lots of emotional speeches are made highlighting the contributions and efforts of all those involved in the win – the broader OURFC family of coaches, staff, committee members, partners, parents, friends. At some point a feeling of deep contentment and relief sets in – all our hard work has paid off. At 7.30am the next morning we left the hotel to catch a flight to Istanbul, where we stayed over the weekend. It’s a stunning city. After that, leaving a group within which you’ve been so utterly embedded over the last few months comes as a bit of a shock.’
After such a huge event that requires months of hard work and preparation, the intensity of Rugby must inevitably decline. What are the plans for the team going into Hilary term?
‘Hilary begins for us with the election of a captain and secretary for the year. Then we’ll play games against the Army, Navy and RAF, as well as a couple of invitational sides – the Penguins and Crawshays. There’s a trip to Ireland to play Trinity College Dublin, and we’re also visited by Kyoto Sangyo University. It’ll be a chance to introduce some new players and give them a chance to impress in the build up to the next Varsity Match.’
Of your five successive Varsity Match victories, which one do you value the most, and which one did you enjoy playing in the most?
‘They’ve all been different and enjoyable in their own ways. In one sense, I value my first (2010) the most, because I was really on the periphery of the team back then and had to work harder than at any other time in my life to earn my 20 minutes on the pitch as a replacement and keep up with my degree at the same time. I was a 20-year old prop needing to put on a lot of muscle, and found the strength and conditioning regime brutal, especially as I was pulling one or two all-nighters a week to get my essays in. In another sense, 2012 was the most special because we looked at one stage almost certain to lose – we were 19-6 down early in the second half.
Which I enjoyed playing in the most is easier to answer – definitely 2013 because we wreaked havoc with the Cambridge scrum. Some 10 year-olds dream about being an astronaut or a film star, but I wanted to one day get a push-over try from a scrum at Twickenham, and we did. What was also wonderful about that game was how we pulled together after one of our players was sent off with 30 minutes to go. I’ve been told that on average, a side that loses a player for 10 minutes concedes 7 points, but we just seemed to gel together, almost started playing as a single organism, and ended up extending our lead and winning comfortably. It was a testament to our togetherness and team spirit, something we have actively pursued a lot over the last few years.’
Historically the Blues have focused entirely on the annual Varsity Match. Do you think there is room for Oxford to play Rugby Union against other Universities in the BUCS league during the build up to the game?
‘I don’t think there’s much desire for it – we currently have a good mix of traditional fixtures (such as the Army, Navy, RAF and Penguins), ‘A’ League teams and academies, and the odd international, such as with Russia and Georgia over the last few years. The current situation is ideal for our preparation for Varsity, because we’re regularly tested against professionals. Whoever else we played, the VM would always be the focus – it’s a successful season if we win that but lose every other game.’
What would you like to see more, a sixth successive Varsity Match triumph or Trinity being promoted in the JCR league
‘I love seeing Trinity do well but I think I’d have to take the VM win!’
Is it challenging to prepare as a team when Oxford terms are so short and academically-focused?
‘Yes it can be quite tough, especially for the undergraduates who have lots of deadlines to meet. There have been some good players who haven’t got a Blue because they just didn’t have the time to train enough. However everyone is going through similar pressures and the result is that it helps us become extremely tightly-knit and intimate with one another.’
In as few words as possible, how could you adequately describe your Blues fresher’s initiation?
‘In as few words as possible: nonexistent. We don’t have any kind of ritualised initiations. I guess the closest thing we have to an initiation is a Good Lad Workshop run by our captain, Jacom Taylor.’
Who is your favourite Rugby pundit and why?
‘Sean Maloney. Not sure he counts as a pundit but I’d rather watch his ‘top 5’s than listen to anyone else talk about rugby. Google ‘rugby HQ top 5’. Of the rest, my favourite is Brian Moore. I appreciate his righteous indignation.’
Your time on the pitch at Twickenham has been extremely fruitful. Have you ever pictured yourself coming back wearing an England shirt? A last-minute World Cup call-up perhaps?
‘Stuart Lancaster has my number in case anything happens to George Ford…’
You’ve had an excellent 5 years for Oxford, and are something of a veteran now. What are you hopes for the future?
‘I still have two, possibly even three years at Oxford after this one. I can only play in one more VM – there’s a limit on the number of postgraduate Blues one can win. So my main hope is to win that final game. Outside rugby, if my DPhil goes well I might look to go into academia. Otherwise some kind of job which utilises the skills I’m learning would be good, perhaps a research post at an NGO. I think I’ll be happy if I can live comfortably without ending up in a job that essentially consists in protecting the wealth of the wealthy.’
Images by Matt Henderson Photography