The Warwick Rugby League team is getting used to the taste of success. Last year, the team won each one of their home matches, an incredible feat which eventually saw them crowned the winners of their BUCS league. And this year, the club hope to establish a second team that plays consistently.
In the light of such success, and in the wake of both rugby league and student rugby making more news headlines than usual (and not for particularly good reasons), now seemed a very interesting point at which to interview Liam O’Neill, President of the Warwick team.
It was on this note that our interview began, as I asked Liam what he made of the recent disbandment of the rugby team at the London School of Economics (LSE), for handing out offensive promotional material.
In any modern society there’s no place for misogyny or sexism of any sort. I don’t know what they were thinking; they deserve the disbandment.
Boar Sport: As President of a university rugby club, what did you make of the recent scandal involving LSE’s union club, whereby they handed out misogynistic leaflets to freshers?
Liam O’Neill: It’s clearly out of place. I’d really like to feel that my club wouldn’t ever do that; they’re better than that. In any modern society there’s no place for misogyny or sexism of any sort. I don’t know what they were thinking; they deserve the disbandment.
B: Why do you think that this kind of behaviour, as well as a large drinking culture, is closely affiliated with rugby clubs?
L O’N: It’s just that with rugby it gets publicised more, as squads may be more generally extreme in their behaviour. You wouldn’t expect an ultimate frisbee team getting too rowdy, I guess. There’s a deep underlying drinking culture, and it’s more ardent within clubs, such as rugby union, league and football. You tend to find that sports people have an early confidence that can transpire to yobbishness at times. Also, when people first come to university they want to push the boundaries, as they are essentially unrestricted. Sports clubs allow you to play this out.
B: As social secretary of the club last year, just how rowdy do your socials get?
L O’N: Upon my election I actually said that I would ease down the socials. The focus of many of games can be aimed at enforcing a hierarchy of existing members above the fresh. That’s not something that’s desirable at all. Engendering a team spirit is crucial for a successful club, after all.
B: Would you say your boys are feminists?
L O’N: I would like to think that none of our members are sexist. We don’t buy into misogyny. We’re linked to two female clubs with both women’s rugby union and aerobics. There isn’t a female league club unfortunately, as the interest isn’t there. But I’d like to think if there was a female version of our club we would work with them.
B: Skipping ahead to wider rugby issues, this time with violence, what do you make of the recent on-pitch incident involving Ben Flower attacking Lance Hohaia?
L O’N: It’s not an isolated incident. Rugby league is a very aggressive sport, like many impact sports. Fights were a weekly occurrence in
matches in my local area. The Ben Flower incident is disgusting, though. As a Wigan fan I was heart-broken that we ultimately lost the match because of it. What he did was unforgiveable, but he’s receiving a deserved punishment.
B: Away from issues and onto success, there seems to be an active drive for publicity and promotion on behalf of your club this year with advertisements around campus and a collaboration with Warwick TV underway. What has spurred this on?
L O’N: Well, we had a hugely successful season last year, even being nominated for club of the year; it was the first time we were promoted, we only lost two games all season, and got to the final of the cup for the first time ever. So, we really need a drive to get our name up while we’re on this high of the success.
B: That sounds like a lot of victory for one club.
L O’N: In our history we have never been promoted or finished above fourth in a league. Last year, we won by a landslide. We had a good group of lads, retained the nucleus of the team, and had a fantastic coach in Troy Perkins. There were three star players in David O’Connor, James Roberts and Rhys Wyles. This came together for one season, and it was the pinnacle of Warwick Rugby League. We would have gone all season unbeaten had it not been for injuries.
B: Any memorable matches?
L O’N: Absolutely. The semi-final of the cup against Leicester was a very, very tight game. We won it with a full length of the field try from Robin Dines. It was sublime. Unfortunately, I don’t remember that much because I was unconscious after a knock from another player!
B: What are your plans for the club this year?
L O’N: We’d like to consolidate our position in this league; we do deserve to be here. We have no chance of winning the league, but can give it a good go and aim to win half of our games. My real goal for the season is to set up a second team that consistently plays games.
B: Have the Warwick Sport price increases affected your club?
L O’N: I’d like to think that it hasn’t affected us too much, but that would be a lie. It has been explained a million and one times but it’s difficult to justify the increase. We’ve had around a 57 percent reduction in sign-ups compared to last year. One reason for this is the increase, and another is the system at the sports fair whereby similar clubs were grouped together, which placed us in between union and American football and thus detracted potential interested players.
B: Finally, where I’m from (Wigan), rugby league dominates, but down in Warwick ‘rugby’ is assumed to be union. How would you sum it up?
L O’N: 13-a-side. It’s much cleaner and quicker because of the absence of rucks and mauls. Everyone is involved in the game a lot more, including centres and wingers. There’s much less emphasis on the kicking, and more on the running. It’s better.