Students, Bears, Roses: Bristol's rugby stars

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By Molly Churchman, Third Year History

Epigram talked to current students Phoebe Murray and Georgia Newman about their experience of the sporting partnership and the importance of the long-standing relationship between the two clubs.

For the past three years, the relationship between the University of Bristol’s Women’s Rugby Club (UBWRFC) and Bristol Bears Women has enabled the very best of student athletes to train and play at the highest level of women’s rugby in the UK.

The partnership has allowed a number of UOB students over the years to combine their university studies with sporting aspirations by playing for Bristol Bears Women at Allianz Premier 15s level.

'We are extremely lucky to work with Bristol Bears, who offer the most aspirational of our Performance squad the opportunity to progress their rugby journey into a top Allianz Premiership Club.'

Current Covid-19 restrictions have suspended training for all adult clubs below Championship and Premier 15s. However, the University has provided over 100 students with high quality coaching and wide-ranging strength and conditioning training since September’s preseason, which was adapted under RFU Covid-19 regulations.

UBWRFC Head Coach Keith Leaker said that ‘UBWRFC very much appreciates the opportunities that Bristol Bears Women afford our most talented players. As possibly the largest Women's University Rugby program in the UK, we attract players from the complete novice to potential and current Internationals. Our extensive and professional program has seen players from all of these entry levels work really hard, improve and grow to become Bears. We are extremely lucky to work with Bristol Bears, who offer the most aspirational of our Performance squad the opportunity to progress their rugby journey into a top Allianz Premiership Club.’

Epigram was lucky enough to interview current students and elite Bears players Phoebe Murray and Georgia Newman in-between training sessions. We managed to ask them a few questions about their rugby story, as well as their future hopes and aspirations. So, who are these two talented players and what is their story?

Phoebe Murray | Smif Sports Photography

Phoebe Murray - Centre

Studying her third year of Medicine, former England U20 and UBWRFC First Team Captain Phoebe Murray has been hooked on rugby since her first ever training session: ‘I was six and I clearly remember it being impressively wet and playing with boys, but I loved the fast-paced dynamics of the game, so I committed and the rest is history.’

Playing all the way through her teens and secondary school, Murray started at Bears after her A-levels because she knew she ‘wanted to take rugby further and try and become a professional.’ Bristol appealed to her ‘because of the offer to study medicine and its links to a Premier League club.’

When asked about balancing a week of intense training and learning, Murray emphasises that ‘Time management is key, but I am lucky that I see rugby as a great stress reliver.’

Murray is aspiring ‘to play for the Senior England team. The pathway partnership supports me massively in balancing both academics with sporting commitments. The coaches fully support me in my goal of playing for England, whilst also understanding that occasionally I will need to miss a session in order to study. Being a part of the University Performance Squad has also given me added support in areas of nutrition and sports psychology, which I have found invaluable.’

'Initially I played with boys until year eight as there was not a local youth girls’ team.'

Georgia Newman - Winger

Former Harlequin Ladies player Georgia Newman similarly started playing at a young age, ‘I think I must have been seven or eight; my dad took me along to a local training session where the game made an immediate impression on me. Initially I played with boys until year eight as there was not a local youth girls’ team. I have definitely noticed an increase in interest in the women’s game since coming to university. Loads of girls want to give it a go.’

For those of you also studying law, you will understand that it requires quite a lot of work, even without playing for a top division rugby team. With regards to this work-game balance, Newman says ‘I find it really helpful to have the support from both sides. The performance squad at Bristol brings together a group of students who have similar aspirations, and especially during lockdown, provides a really nice support bubble.’

‘Because there are stresses in trying to balance both a degree and rugby; it’s really nice to have an understanding from both sides.’

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‘My rugby aspirations in the short-term is to get in the starting position for Bears after a year out of rugby with injury. Long-term, I aspire to play in a Rugby 7s World Series for either England or Britain depending what the national 7s set up looks like in the future.’

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Both Murray and Newman make clear they have seen a marked increase in the exposure and popularity of the women’s game since they first started playing as kids. The development partnership highlights increased monetary investment in watching women train, play and hopefully excel in the rugby game, just like they have.

Featured Image: University of Bristol Netball Club

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