Rugby: Balancing work and play

Former Cambridge University Rugby Union Football Club captain, Dan Vickerman

Cambridge is cold. So cold it chills you to the bone. So cold that pitches freeze over, making play heavy and calling for a faster, harder style of rugby where night-time games are a matter of endurance. For an Aussie, used to hotter climes, that’s a culture shock.

Charlie Troman for CAM

I started playing rugby at the age of seven and never really aimed towards a professional career. From school tournaments I progressed to professional provincial teams in South Africa and Australia, and finally to selection for the Australian National side, who I played for from 2002 to 2008.

Balancing sport and work is, of course, an important and ever-present issue. Michaelmas Term is particularly intense in the lead up to the Varsity Match and you just have to do what you need to do to get the job done, whether it be preparing for a supervision or attending a training session. In a way, having two focuses sharpens the mind. One provides relief for the other, making life a little easier.

There’s no doubt that amateur rugby has a different feel to professional rugby. As a professional, rugby was my day job. I made some of my closest friends while playing full time and the bonds that professional teams have are quite unique, but on a daily basis my routine was to do what needed to be done to play and win. Cambridge rugby is so much more well-rounded, which is refreshing, and it’s a privilege to play with a group of guys from such diverse backgrounds. The culture of the Cambridge team goes much further than the field, it’s a family atmosphere, a great bunch of guys who develop lifelong friendships, and being part of that is really very special.

Whether amateur or professional, you’ve got to want to win. In the scrum you’re just in there pushing and pushing, you’re competing and you’ve got to want the victory. Inevitably the contest becomes personal but you’ve got to make sure that it doesn’t cloud your judgement or the common team goal. Keeping your composure is essential but sometimes hard to achieve. You’ve got to know where to draw the line in the sand: ultimately the game’s not about making yourself look good, it’s about the team.

Last year’s Varsity victory was especially rewarding because, as team captain, I had seen what the guys put in to make the season work. Watching the team improve and gel together was very pleasing. After a season plagued by injuries we came together when it really mattered, fielding our full side for the first time at Twickenham. We played as a team with the common goal of winning. The season’s predominantly about the journey, following the plan and executing it to the best of our abilities, but the win topped it all off.

Selection was, for me, the hardest process last year and I don’t envy the new captain, Jimmy Richards, the task this season. It’s amazing to see the joy and relief of players who make the cut. Others have played all season with total commitment and then aren’t chosen due to injury. The disappointment is unbearable. It’s part of the captain’s job, but my least favourite duty. Seeing the progress of the young guys was my favourite part. Watching them enjoy their rugby, make huge strides forward, achieve their goals and play to win was extremely rewarding.

Being captain was a unique experience but I don’t feel any sadness in passing the baton on to Jimmy. The club is based on the principle that captaincy is one year long, you do your best, enjoy the experience, and then someone else has a go.

To be honest, not being captain won’t change my role a lot at the end of the day, I will play my best regardless, and I want to help make things go as well as possible. My hopes for the season are fairly straightforward, we need to make sure we’re in a good position to face challenges, we need to prepare well, working hard on and off the field, we need to focus on the details and make sure everything flows functionally. When all of that is put in place, the big things look after themselves.

For more information about Cambridge University Rugby Union Football Club, visit

This originally appeared in the 61st edition of the Cambridge Alumni Magazine (CAM)