Third-year undergraduates Cecilia Peker and Jennifer Smith have been selected to play for the University Women’s Blues Rugby team at the Varsity Match this year.

The 30th Women's Varsity match against Cambridge kicks off at Twickenham Stadium at 11.30am on Thursday 8th December. It will be followed by the Men's match at 2.30pm. Cecilia is playing tight head prop at the front of the scrum, and Jennifer is playing loose head prop alongside her.

Cecilia Peker and Jennifer Smith: Varsity Match 2016 Cecilia Peker and Jennifer Smith with Dylan Hartley (England Men's Captain)

We sat down to ask them a few questions:

Why did you both choose rugby?

Cecilia: Upon the recommendation of the boys on our College rugby team, I went along to a taster day being run by OURFC Women in Trinity Term in my first year, and I decided that I really liked the atmosphere and the skills that I got to use, and wanted to keep going!

Jennifer: I was inspired by Cecilia and the rest of the Blues playing at Twickenham last year, and having played Netball for Oxford for two years, I wanted a change. I went to a beginner’s session and really loved the girls and the coaches, and fell in love with the game!

How long have you been playing for?

Jennifer: I attended beginner’s sessions from Hilary of last year, and played in the Cuppers final with the All Saints in Trinity term. I trained over the summer to be ready for the start of this season, and have been playing for the Dark Blues all term.

Cecilia: I’ve been playing for over a year, and now play for Saracens Women outside of term time, but I've been involved in high intensity sports since the age of 11 which is a good background for rugby.

What skills do you think you have learned from playing?

Jennifer: Mindset is everything – if you believe you can do it, you can.

Cecilia: I’ve learnt how to think on my feet more, to trust my teammates to do what they have to do for us all to succeed, how to keep fighting (even with the odds against me), and how to be gracious in both victory and defeat.

What do you enjoy most about playing rugby?

Jennifer and Cecilia: We love the atmosphere that all the women and coaches at OURFC have created, and the people we train with are some of the best we’ve ever met. We also really enjoy the tactical aspect of rugby – in a sport that is often thought of as being more brawn over brain, it’s really great being able to combine the two and use it to try and outsmart your opponent, whilst also smashing into them!

What do your friends say to you about playing rugby?

Jennifer: All my friends have been pretty supportive and are really excited that I’ll be playing at Twickenham for the Varsity Match! Besides, most of my friends are rugby players anyway, and my one non-rugby friend is Welsh, so loves it too!

Cecilia: Likewise! My mum is too worried about me getting a head injury to think about much else, but my friends and family are really proud all in all!

Have you been injured?

Jennifer: No, not properly, but I’ve learnt that rest, recovery, and looking after yourself are really important.

Cecilia: I’ve only been to A&E once this term, so I’d say I’m doing pretty well!

How much training do you have to do to prepare?

Cecilia and Jennifer: We train as a squad every day. There’s also a lot of mental preparation that goes into our training, and a fair few tactical discussions – all of that helps us really make the most of our time on the pitch.

How do you find time to fit everything in with your degrees and other commitments?

Cecilia: A lot of careful planning and time management, a colour-coded diary, plenty of sleep (I try to get at least eight hours a night), good food, sacrificing most of Oxford’s nightlife, and sheer stubbornness have served me well so far...

Jennifer: The first thing to go was drinking – its amazing what you can get done when you’re not hungover!

Cecilia, what was it like playing in the Match last year?

Cecilia: The experience was incredible – playing at the home of English Rugby was such an honour. Obviously the result wasn’t what we wanted, but our team took great pride in the trail we blazed for the next generation of female rugby players! We did beat Cambridge a few weeks later, and hopefully we can repeat that performance this year.

If you had to persuade someone in one sentence why they should play, what would you say?

Cecilia: If you’ve ever doubted yourself, or what you can do, go out onto a rugby pitch and tackle someone – no matter how big or small you are, how fast you run, or how much you weigh, with the right training, you can take down anyone.

Jennifer: I’ve never felt more confident than now, and rugby has given me that confidence – its an amazing sport, and a great community, and you could be part of it!

The College is looking forward to cheering Cecilia and Jennifer on next week. If you would like to attend the matches at Twickenham, tickets (covering both matches) are available from The Varsity Match website or Christina Haddad at the OURFC offices.

The match will also be streamed live and televised on BBC Red Button, and YouTube. It will appear on BBC iPlayer shortly afterwards.