Jake Hennessey will hope to continue what looks like being a hugely promising rugby career with a second straight Varsity Match win at Twickenham The Cambridge centre became a Light Blue for the first time last season, helping James Shanahan’s side to a famous victory at the home of English rugby.
Since then, Hennessey’s time in the sport has flourished further with a call-up to the England Sevens set-up. Still only 20, the former Harlequins Under 18 skipper and Scotland age-group international is currently focusing on his French degree and playing rugby at Grange Road. A year older and wiser, Oxford are now in his sights once again.
“It’s been a good, fun year. It’s been different because I have the experience of the Varsity Match from last year,” said Hennessey, who will start at inside centre against Oxford. “I’ve now got the experience of how the club works, how the team plays under James, and that’s all good. All the build-up has been done now. We’ve won four in a row going into the big one, but we’ve put in some good performances and some not so good ones. It’s just full speed ahead now.
“Our defence wasn’t very good in the Steele-Bodger’s game. Much of that came down to me. I made some poor decisions in the first 20 minutes of that match and that put us on the back foot.
“The Bodger’s played some good rugby, but as a team we – and I – need to be better than that when we face Oxford. There are no excuses for silly mistakes.
“I was reasonably happy with my performance at Twickenham last year, but now it’s a case of trying to do the same and, hopefully, stepping it up another level too. Ultimately, the plan is to bring back the win again.”
Hennessey arrived at Cambridge with a wealth of rugby experience already in the bank. He captained Harlequins to the Premiership title at Under-18 level, was a key figure for respected rugby school King’s College, Wimbledon, and also represented Scotland at Under-19 level.
Despite breaking through at Gallagher Premiership outfit Harlequins, Hennessey chose to opt for a move into higher education at Cambridge. All too aware of the perilous nature of sport at the highest level, Hennessey is no longer contracted to Harlequins, but one day hopes to return to professional rugby.
His selection for England Sevens at the Moscow Sevens tournament in May was a reflection of his supreme talent. “Playing for England Sevens was very much something which happened by chance. They had an injury and I was just a last-minute call-up,” said Hennessey.
“It was a great experience for me. I’m not with Harlequins anymore, but I’m enjoying my rugby with Cambridge and hopefully we can get the win.
“I always wanted to go to university and get a degree. I was very lucky last year that Quins were going to support me on that venture. That’s not the case now, but hopefully when I finish my degree in two and a bit years time, there will be a career in professional rugby there for me.”
As a fresher, Hennessey’s first Varsity Match experience couldn’t have gone much better. Last year he played the full 80 minutes as the Light Blues won for the second straight year. The only thing missing was a try, though Hennessey did have a score ruled out.
“The university game is such a good breeding ground for young players now. The standard is very high and it only helps you to improve,” he said. “I wouldn’t be surprised to see more clubs – especially those who have good links with certain institutions – cast their net wider and look at university students.
“My performances this year haven’t been at the level I would want them to be at, but that’s been nothing to do with me not being at Quins. Hopefully, I can get back in with them one day.”
What will give Hennessey extra motivation this afternoon is the fact he is unlikely to play in this fixture next year due to his academic commitments. He will hope to make it two from two today and extend Cambridge’s winning run in the famous fixture to three matches.
“Weights and gym work for me is very much the icing on the cake. At university level it’s all about your skills and your rugby nous,” he added. “I’ve really enjoyed it at Cambridge and I’ve got two more years here, but one of them will be a year abroad in France.
“I’ll finish this year, then go away, and come back after. I’m studying French. I’ve no idea where I’ll go yet, I’m trying to sort out some rugby to play while I’m there. That’s the plan and, hopefully, it comes off.”
Tickets for the 30th Anniversary of Women’s Varsity Match and 137th Men’s Varsity Match at Twickenham on Thursday, 6 December, are still available from £25 adults, £15 students and £10 juniors at www.thevarsitymatch.com.