FORMER Bandon underage rugby player and Cork ladies footballer Sile Johnson recently lined out on the Oxford team who narrowly succumbed to Cambridge in the annual Varsity game which was played in Twickenham.
Sile was part of the Oxford rugby team who lost on a final scoreline of 8-5.
Despite the narrow defeat, Sile thoroughly enjoyed her varsity experience.
“It was an absolute privilege. It is definitely the highlight of my rugby career.
"The Varsity match is an annual game against Cambridge so this in itself brings a lot of pressure, but playing it at a major rugby stadium adds another level of excitement.
"It is a fantastic achievement for women's sport to have the women's teams playing along with the men.
"I was delighted we were able to put on a quality performance,” revealed the sports star.
The Bandon native lined out at scrum-half and she produced a very strong display.
Sile was delighted to experience playing in Twickenham, one of the most impressive stadiums in the world.
“It was fantastic. The changing rooms are gigantic with everything you can imagine in there including warm-up areas, a gym, ice baths and physio rooms.
"The definite highlight was the pitch. It was gorgeous to run on, kick-off and just play on.
"As nice as it was, it is no Croke Park.”
Cambridge produced a whirlwind finale in the closing stages which propelled them to victory against their great rivals.
Sile is hopeful they will learn from their heartbreak moving forward.
“It was devastating to lose in the manner we did.
"To be winning with two and half minutes to go, only to be broken in the centre where we had been so defensively strong up to that point was tough.
"We have bigger plans for the season than just the Varsity match, with multiple university competitions coming up.
"All we can do is learn some important lessons and correct them for future fixtures.”
Sile was pleased with her performance at scrum-half.
She credits her GAA background and an old Gaelic football coach for his contribution in her strong display.
“I was reasonably happy with my performance.
"With the rain, the ball was quite slippy so it was often difficult to get good long passes out.
"However, it was perfect weather for box kicking so I was happy to do that all day.
"Fortunately, my Gaelic football background, and Ted O’Donovan's tutelage, means I can kick off both feet which our opposition found at times difficult to cope with.
"I was happy I could offer this in my position.”
The annual ladies varsity match between Cambridge and Oxford was televised live which added to the pressure and sense of occasion.
Sile had trained hard along with her colleagues in preparation for the big rugby game.
“The pressure of the match being televised means there is a huge push to raise our game.
"The consequence is daily training sessions leading up the match, so its pretty much like a professional outfit.
"We are really lucky in Oxford that the women's team are part of the Performance Scheme so we get amazing strength and conditioning, psychology and nutrition sessions which are key for dealing with the physical and emotional demands of the sport, not to mind the additional stress of playing in front of thousands in the stadium and on TV.”
The 29-year-old Cork sports heroine is in her second last year studying Grad Entry medicine in Oxford.
She is balancing her academic and sporting requirements perfectly at present as she reflected upon her busy schedule.
“I went to do medicine after my PhD as I want to work in clinical research, where I can work with patients as opposed to a laboratory.
"In order to this, I need a medical degree so I was fortunate enough to get in to Oxford which offers an accelerated course.
"I absolutely love it. Its a fantastic place to study and live.”
Sile played rugby for two years at underage level for Bandon following much prompting from her best friend Olivia Roycroft.
Sile is a very talented sports star.
The West Cork native has enjoyed huge sporting success in a number of different sports.
She has represented the Munster hockey team at both U18 and U21 level.
She has also played in the European Club Hockey Championships.
She played Gaelic football with Valley Rovers and she played for the Cork team at U16, U18 and senior level.
She has won three All-Ireland medals, including a senior title with the Cork ladies in 2008.
Sile still plays hockey and Gaelic football in Oxford.
She took up playing rugby once again after going to the Varsity game last year as she revealed.
“I took up rugby again last year. I went along to Twickenham last year to see my friend play and just felt I had to get involved.
"I went along to training and fell in love with the sport and the team.”
She is delighted ladies rugby continues to grow on an annual basis.
“On a national level I can see how much the game has come on in terms of coverage which is great ahead of the Women's Rugby World Cup in 2021.
"My experience in rugby has been outstanding. I really hope that more girls get involved and maybe we'll see a few more Cork players competing in New Zealand in 2021.”