Sam Asfahani’s decision to replace York St. John with the University of Hull should be applauded for re-invigorating a competition that has long since gone from being a competitive event, to an annual walk in the park for York. Far from the occasion being an absorbing contest between two rivals, Varsity now resembles something of a mismatch. With the odd exception, St. John’s sides are no match for York’s teams.
Last year’s competition was particularly one sided, York winning by 91.25 points to St John’s 19.25, with the event pretty much won by York a few hours into Sunday, despite the lack of rugby fixtures; games that York were guaranteed to gain points from. Even if York had only participated in the three events in which St. John won points, York still would have won Varsity. The one-sided nature of the event resulted in there being sparse crowds in attendance and the ambitious attempts to turn Varsity into a money spinner failed miserably; the competition managed to produce a loss of one pound.
Inviting Hull to compete instead of St. John will result in a real warm-up for York’s teams before Roses. Last year’s easy win and lack of competitive action on the weekend probably contributed to York’s disappointing Roses defeat in Lancaster. For example, St. John’s netball fourths, despite playing in the BUCS Championship, were beaten by a hastily assembled College barbarians side, by the huge margin of 53-6. Wins by large margins in the swimming and basketball matchups proved to be an irrelevant indicator of form when it came to Roses; the basketball teams lost both games they played, as did York’s swimmers. Instead of proving to be a useful testing ground for university teams, Varsity had become a chance to fill your boots for most teams and provide little useful feedback for the team captains.
BUCS fixtures cannot replicate the kind of intensity a weekend tournament produces, where teams have to hit the ground running from hour one and every result contributes to the whole competition. Each team has to compete with a different mindset, something that BUCS games don’t breed. If Hull can provide York with a real contest in February, teams will be able to learn a lot from their performances. York’s sports teams probably didn’t gain much, if anything, from last year’s Varsity competition.
Purists may argue that the universities of York and Hull have little connection and that the rivalry between York and St. John should be maintained, but this misty-eyed analysis ignores the reality of Varsity. The event should be there to serve as the main warm-up for Roses, and should be as competitive as possible. Every side that plays Lancaster in May will benefit from a severe workout against Hull, a university that will be determined to win and has the resources to provide an accurate reflection of the challenge that Roses is. Convincing York victories are pointless.
This year SCAN, Lancaster’s student newspaper, has identified Roses 2011 as their best chance at an away victory in a long while, and it is because of this that York needs to go into the competition with maximum preparation and match practice. Many, including this newspaper, were guilty of underestimating Lancaster’s challenge last year and if we are to regain the Carter James Trophy this time round, a competitive weekend against Hull will provide the perfect warm-up.