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Loughborough Students History

Ken Jones Lbro College 1st XV 1948-49

The students of Loughborough College formed the first student team at the start of Michaelmas term, September 1919. The first UAU game took place in the 1930- 31 season with the Loughborough Colleges XV beating Nottingham University 8 – 0.

Rugby eventually became the most established club at Loughborough Colleges and in 1939 the side reach the UAU final for the first time. In an evenly matched game against Swansea, the opposition scored the only try of the match and won the championship for the sixth time in seven seasons.

In the post-war era, Loughborough rugby produced three of its greatest names: Two future captains of England, Eric Evans and Jeff Butterfield, and Ray Williams who eventually became Secretary of the Welsh Rugby Union. In 1953 the Colleges won the UAU for the first time and through that decade extended their fixture list to become one of the leading clubs in the Midlands. In 1959 the college won the Middlesex 7’s for the first time and started a series of matches against St. Luke’s College Exeter.

In 1962 John Robins joined the College Staff and during his time became head coach of the Loughborough Colleges side. During this tenancy, the 1st XV fixture list expanded to include Leicester, Gloucester, Rosslyn Park, Moseley, and London Irish. John Robins was an innovative coach of worldwide stature and credited with revolutionising attitudes towards fitness in English rugby. He went on to become the first British Lions coach (though he was officially termed “manager” due to regulations that banned coaches at that time).

1962 – 1968 were six spectacular years for Colleges rugby, winning every UAU title except 1965.In this period, the Colleges generated players such as Gerald Davies, John Mantle, Colin MacFadyean, Dave Rollit, John Taylor and Bev Risman whom went on to become world class international players.

In 1967 John Robins left the college and was replaced by the now legendary Jim Greenwood, who had played for both Scotland and the British Lions. In 1970 Jim coached the Colleges to victory in the Middlesex Sevens, followed by the first ever UAU final to be held at Twickenham, where the Colleges beat Nottingham University 22 – 3. This 1970 – 71 side was probably the strongest ever to represent the club, including six future internationals, Louis Dick, David Cooke, Clive Rees, Fran Cotton, Steve Smith, and Dick Cowman. Jim Greenwood wrote two books to worldwide acclaim: Total Rugby and Think Rugby, and they remain essential and inspiring reads for any coach.

In 1968 three lecturers with an interest in coaching rugby and varying degrees of experience were appointed to the then College of Education. (At the time the College and the University of Technology had separate rugby teams). Although Jim Greenwood was appointed in part to coach Rugby; Rex Hazeldine and Rod Thorpe coached rugby after their ‘proper’ job as Lecturers. The Physical Education intake at the time was about 120 of whom perhaps 40 a year would wish to play rugby.  A few Handicraft students added to this number. The three coaches set out to design a coaching structure to meet the needs, aspirations and abilities of these students by providing a development route enabling them to play at the right level. Simply, Jim, the most experienced, would coach the 1st and 2nd teams, supported by a second team Manager, John Smith (a Handicraft Lecturer with a passion for rugby). Rex and Rod alternated between the developing and running of two freshers teams and the Collegiate team, a third team, for those who had not progressed to the upper teams. Alternating between the Fresher and Collegiate teams had its coaching advantages because it allowed both coaches to continue to work with players they had developed and also to have a break from the stress of shaping the two Freshers teams. It is fair to say that the Freshers A side often developed to around a second team level by the time they played the England Colts at the end of the season. During this period, on arrival, some students went straight into the first team, e.g. Fran Cotton (England and Lions) whilst others Steve Smith (England and Lions) played in the Freshers in the first year, often because their position in the first team had an established talent (in Steve’s case -Lionel Weston).

The 1976 – 77 season was the first for Loughborough Students Rugby Club, formed when the Student’s Unions of the University of Technology and the Colleges merged. The new club kept pace with the old by winning the UAU in 1977/78/79. 1978 – 79 was a superb season with the team losing only twice under the captaincy of the talented young centre Clive Woodward.

Although this was a successful time for the club, in 1976 an increased number of students and the switch from students playing winter/summer sports to one sport all year round meant that Rod, as the only tennis coach, had to leave the rugby coaching staff.

Although a great loss to the club, Jim Greenwood’s position was filled by Rex Hazeldine. Rex later became England’s first fitness coach, and was an integral part of the revolution of attitudes to the game at an international level. In 1984 the 1st XV again tasted success, winning the UAU, the Leicestershire Cup and beating the touring Australian Universities, with the Freshers XV beating England Colts for the second year in succession.

The following 1985-86 season, coached by Morgan Thomas and captained by Andy Robinson, the 1st XV made it through to the third round of the John Player cup losing 18 – 6 to a strong Wasps side, but went on to earn the Triple Champs tag after winning the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd XV UAU Championships.

Since then the Loughborough Students side has been coached by Dave Willetts, Austin Swain, Ged Glynn, Alan Buzza, Dosser Smith, Alan Buzza, Paul Westgate and David Morris.

In 1996 the Students took the major step of joining the RFU League system. Having been offered the equivalent of joining at a National 2 standard, the club turned it down and joined at the bottom of the pile. Over the years, the side have steadily worked their way up the pyramid.

The University first invested in a full-time Director of Rugby in 1998 when Dosser Smith came to the club after coaching Leicester Tigers to the Premiership. Alan Buzza took over from Dosser in 2001. Across the country, University rugby was being left behind as the pursuit for professionalism became more significant therefore Buzza began the job of modernizing the club. With money being offered by local clubs and high credibility being given to those “on a contract” (no matter how meagre) the club was at an all-time low.

Climbing their way through the league system, Loughborough’s promotions in 2001/2002 and 2002/2003 brought renewed confidence and belief to the club. The likes of Tom Evans Jones and Justin Abrahams were key figures in driving and promoting club spirit. Andy Vilk scored a hatful of tries during these seasons and previously unknown players such as James Jones and Sam Ulph typified the new era, going from 3rd XV players to 1st XV and beyond to England universities. James Jones is currently at Sale Sharks after winning two Oxford Blues, whilst Sam bemoans having been called up to the England 7s squad only to be thwarted by injury.

Despite the success in the RFU league system, it took the employment of full time head coach Paul Westgate to end Loughborough’s 12 seasons without a British Universities championship win. The long drought finally finished with back to back wins in 2005 and 2006. When Westgate moved on David Morris took over as head coach and immediately gained League promotion to Midlands 1. Having set the goals of a mid-table finish in Midlands 1 and winning the BUSA championship for 2007/2008, a players “revolt” after the fifth league match reset the goal as League promotion. Miraculously promotion was achieved, winning Midlands 1 with several games to spare in the sides first season. On top of this the team nearly achieved a remarkable double, winning through to the final of the BUSA Championship, but lost to Hartpury at Twickenham.

2008-9 was an exciting season. As the first student side to take part in the National Leagues we were in new territory and started slowly with a young side. However by Christmas we had found our feet and a storming finish to the season saw us finish in sixth place. However the highlight of the year had to be the extraordinary win over England U20’s.

2009-10 saw the Students progress further, David Morris produced an outstanding pre-season programme that culminated in Loughborough beating Macclesfield in the first match of the season by the smallest of margins. After losing 12 of the first team squad, blending the old and the new in to a team that beat the eventual champions was a tremendous achievement. However the Students took time to settle and lost two of their first five matches. Subsequently, twelve games unbeaten took them to the top of the National 2 North table. A narrow loss to Caldy at the end of January led to a gap in the season due to adverse weather conditions. This break allowed the Students to refresh, leading them into a ten game unbeaten run, keeping them at the top of the table. Having led for most of the season they then faced second place Macclesfield at the end of April. A tough fixture saw the Students lose for the first time since January and drop to second place. Tough fought victories against Westoe and Preston meant the Students retained second place and a play off place. The playoff match against Rosslyn Park attracted over 1000 supporters to Loughborough and after a hard fought season the Students fell at the last hurdle to a Rosslyn Park side that were excellent on the day.

During this season, Loughborough also won the BUCS Championship for the first time since 2006 and the BUCS 2nd XV retained the BUCS Trophy. A fifth successive victory in the Real Varsity Match against Bath University and a narrow loss to England U20’s finished a fantastic season for the Students.

Since first winning the Universities Championship in 1953, Loughborough have won the Universities’ Championship on 28 Occasions, exactly half of the finals played. They also continued to be the highest competing University in the RFU structure, competing at tier 4, a monumental achievement by the club.

After just falling short the season before, in the 2010/11 season, the Students set their sights on promotion to National 1 once again. After a strong start to the season a dip in form over the winter months resulted in a 2nd place finish for the second season in a row. An away playoff against Jersey RFC finished in a defeat once again, consigning the students to another year in National 2 North – Jersey RFC went on to gain promotion to the Championship the next season. The season also saw the end of The Real Varsity Match against Team Bath, which the Students won for the 7th year out of 7, an exceptional record that the club is proud of. On the individual front six of the squad represented England Students, Will Warden being named captain, and two players represented England Counties.

Following two close runs for promotion 2011/12 was a defining season for the Students. After a slow start to the season the tables turned and the young side hit back with full force and with four games of the season to go David Morris’ side clinched promotion to National 1, finishing 22 points clear of 2nd place. The season also saw the biggest game in the club’s history as they faced the world famous Barbarian FC, coached by alumnus Andy Robinson. On a wet day in the new Loughborough University Stadium the Barbarians won 40 – 7, however Loughborough gave an exceptional showing both on and off the pitch.

Being the first student side to enter the National Leagues and now the first student side in National 1, the Students began the 2012/13 season with an understandably shaky start. Losing the first 6 matches of the season put Loughborough on the back foot but showing their resilience, went on to win 15 of the 30 matches they would play that season. This incredible turnaround led them to finish in 7th position on 78 points above 8 teams that had been in National 1 the previous season. Their impressive position more than secured their continuation in the league for the following season.

As the 2013/14 season approached Loughborough were more prepared for what they would face in the National 1 league. Coming off the back of an impressive previous season they won the first 3 matches and looked on good form. However, the Students’ luck did not last and they went on to lose 16 matches that season, which put them in a precarious position concerning relegation. As they went into the last match against Blaydon, Loughborough knew they had to win to remain in National 1. The Students put on an impressive show and, despite an early try from the visitors, the home side held out to win 29-10 and secured their place in the third tier of the English leagues.

The 2014/15 season came around and Loughborough had another shaky start, losing their first 5 matches. Despite this they won 11 of their other games and were safe in National 1 with two matches remaining at the end of the season, finishing in 12th position on 63 points. During the season the BUCS 1s also made it to the final of the BUCS Championship for the first time since the club had been involved in the national leagues. The 1s won their semi-final away in Exeter 29-16 and travelled to the Home of Rugby to face Leeds Beckett. Loughborough started strongly and went into half time with a 23-5 lead on the hallowed Twickenham turf but Leeds came back after the break with immense strength and went on to win 23-31.

In their fourth year of National 1 (2015/16), Loughborough started off slowly losing their first three games against Fylde, Coventry, and Esher. It was a difficult season for the side as wins were few and far between. The students won just 9 out of their 30 games and finished in 13th place on 55 points. The BUCS 1’s again had a fantastic season and made it to the final for the second year in a row. Loughborough went into the 79th minute just ahead of Premier South A winners Exeter, the score stood at 18-19 but a drop goal in the dying moments saw the team in green crowned BUCS Champions.

The 2016/17 season saw the introduction of the BUCS Super Rugby which took the top eight university sides in the country and combined them to create the most competitive league to date. At the half way point in the season, Loughborough were in first place, with Hartpury College hot on their heels in second place. The National 1 side also had a superb start to the season, and were sitting in 8th place at Christmas, winning losing just 8 of their 16 games. This season saw a historic win for Loughborough over Darlington Mowden Park whom they had never beaten since joining the league.

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