On 1 March 2019 Balliol students, staff and Fellows enjoyed a visit from the England rugby team. Balliol rugby team’s Malachi Rayner-Philipson (4th-year engineering student) explains:
It’s Six Nations season and it’s not uncommon to bump into some of international rugby’s stars in central Oxford: the England men’s team often visit Oxford for week-long training camps and stay in the Randolph Hotel, a stone’s throw (or well-placed drop kick) away from Balliol’s back gate. After a promising start to their 2019 campaign, England’s arrival in Oxford came just after a tight defeat in Cardiff at the hands of Wales.
At short notice, the England rugby team needed a patch of grass close to the hotel to walk through patterns early on Friday 1 March. The College was eager to accommodate them. After a quick visit from an assistant coach earlier in the week, England confirmed they would come to Balliol’s back quad for a 20-minute session (naturally at a low intensity to preserve both players and gardeners’ hard work).
At 9.00am head coach Eddie Jones ushered his 25 players through back gate. A small crowd of students, staff and Fellows gathered around the perimeter of the quad to watch a well-oiled display of patterns and set pieces. The squad moved like clockwork, each player knowing precisely what was required from them. After the session there was a brief opportunity for students to take photos and get signatures from their rugby heroes before the squad departed to try their hand at punting (with considerably less aplomb).
As well as donating a signed jersey for the Buttery, England Rugby invited a group of Balliol students to watch them train at St Edward’s School in Summertown the day before their Balliol visit. The students scored the bonus point of seeing not one but two international rugby teams at work. Georgia, renowned for their strong forwards, sometimes train with England in a mutually beneficial arrangement. The training session culminated in a fiery half-hour of full contact between the two teams. Witnessing such a unique and exciting training session at such close quarters was fascinating.
This surreal experience was a huge boost for BCRFC and gives the club tremendous encouragement for its ongoing season. Despite not enjoying the same rugby privileges as some more established rugby colleges, Balliol has already won a double promotion into the second division of the college league and goes into Trinity Term with ambitions to win the Plate in Cuppers.
Balliol rugby stars include Richard Sharp (Balliol 1959), Captain of England 1963; Ronald Poulton Palmer (Balliol 1908), Captain of England 1914, killed in the First World War in 1915; and the late Colonel Mike Campbell-Lamerton, Bursar of Balliol 1985-1998), sometime Captain of the British Lions.
Photographs by Joel Stocker/RFU.