Manon Johnes is on cloud nine as she prepares to represent Oxford University in the famous Varsity Match at Welford Road next week.
While we’ve become familiar with Johnes as a no-messing, hard-hitting openside flanker on both club and international level, it might come as a surprise that she will don the number nine jersey in university colours.
The Cardiff Blues, Bristol Bears and Wales star caps off her first year at the world famous university by taking to the field in Leicester next week, having completed her exams last week.
The Welsh international admits it’s a privilege to play a part in such a historic occasion, but admits her switch to scrum half has invited plenty of banter from family, friends and team-mates.
“I’m really excited because the experience of playing for the university is going to be completely different from playing club rugby or for Wales,” explained Johnes.
“It gives me an opportunity to play with new players and try new things, and obviously the Varsity match between Oxford and Cambridge is historic and a huge match.
“I feel privileged to be able to play a part in the match and I’m really excited for the experience.
“It’s certainly been emphasised to us how historic and important this game is. We had to go to the club to receive our formal invitations to play in the match.
“There’s a lot of traditions at Oxford, and this is a big one. We’ve spoken a lot about the importance of this match for everyone.
“More than anything it’s important for the women who haven’t had an opportunity to play in 15 months and it’s a chance for them to play once again. Everyone’s excited.
“Usually the game is played at Twickenham, but because of Covid it’s being played at Welford Road this year.
“It’s a fantastic stadium to play in and the occasion itself, where the men and women’s game is being held side-by-side, is a fantastic opportunity for people to see the level of rugby that both universities are capable of producing.
“I’ve had so many questions about the move to scrum half, and I’m sure my Dad is worried more than anything else.
“When I told him, he immediately sent me clips of Mauro Bergamasco playing as a scrum half for Italy against England.
“He was winding me up, saying that’s what’s going to happen to me, so yes - thanks for the support Dad!
“But to be honest it’s an opportunity for me to try something new out, to be honest, as it’s perhaps a game with a little less pressure than at club or international level.
“I’ve had one-on-one box kicking lessons but I can’t say I promise an excellent kicking game. Everyone has to start somewhere!
“I’m looking forward to giving Keira Bevan [Ospreys and Wales scrum half] some tips next time I see her. The Bristol and Wales girls have seen it as funny more than anything else to be honest.”
The 19 year old student says winning the encounter would be the perfect ending to a memorable, yet challenging, first year of studies at Oxford.
“Winning the Blue is massive for Oxford. You can see how much it means to everyone,” adds Johnes.
“The Varsity matches are huge occasions and that was certainly on my mind when I was applying for this university.
“To play in this match at the end of my first year is exciting and it’s a special experience to be a part of.
“It’s been a tough year in trying to balance my rugby and my studies. Even in my final week I had people asking if I was a visiting student as they don’t see much of me due to the amount of travelling for rugby I do.
“But I’m happy to have a pretty unique experience which is quite hard to put into words. It’s been a special year and I realise how lucky I am to be at Oxford and still living a double life.
“I don’t believe there will be much time for me to relax over the summer as I’m already missing two weeks of pre-season training with Bristol because of the Varsity.
“But I’m looking forward to playing with them once again and to be back in Cardiff and Wales over the summer - on the right side of the border!”