When asked to give his predicted scoreline for this Sunday’s Varsity fixture between the Nottingham Outlaws and the Trent Renegades, line backer James Beaumont was largely hesitant. “I predicted us to win last year but we all know what happened then” before smiling and adding “But I’m a confident guy”. Neither of these things were without their foundations either. Despite last year’s encounter being a tight one, The Outlaws might quite rightly feel aggrieved by a scoreline that ultimately flattered their formerly-polytechnic counterparts (Trent won 14-6) and surprised many in the crowd, not to mention those on the field either. Beaumont however, proved to be something of a Varsity revelation last year. Unjustly overlooked by many Varsity commentators for being on the losing side, Beaumont’s big hits proved to be popular with the crowd last year and were a real highlight of last year’s fixture.
Unfortunately, for many of the Outlaws last year’s match was short on highlights. Henri Dinger, the club’s president, was another who played in last year’s game and is determined to avoid another second-place. ‘Collecting a silver medal definitely isn’t the way I want to remember Varsity’. To make sure of this, the Outlaws regrouped and reassessed where their weaknesses were. Dinger explains: ‘Our defense has always been very strong, but we’ve needed to reassess our offense which let us down in some places last year’. This started with a reshuffle in the coaching department, with an increase in numbers freeing up experienced players such as Beaumont to focus his attention on passing on experience gained playing for Great Britain. ‘Since the last Varsity I’ve played against American Colleges and in the European Championships for Great Britain in Germany. Working with some of the linebackers has allowed me to pass on what I’ve learnt from being away and playing internationally’ Each of those four caps Beaumont won has been reinvested in the improvement of the players he drills week in, week out.
With defense being where the Outlaws have been consistently strong however, offense is where surgery has been made on the side, and where the side has come along in great strides. Under the guidance of new coach Justin Smith, a new ‘pistol offense’ has been brought in. A merger of the single back and shotgun offenses, where the quarterback steps away from centre, snapping back. ‘It’s more professional that what we’ve been doing before’ Dinger told me excitedly, ‘Being more focused on our speed, and playing an offense that’s very pass happy, we’re playing to our strengths far more than we have previously.’
This has told in their season so far. Riding high on the back of a resounding 27-0 victory against the Warwick Wolves, Outlaws are now third in their unfortunately-named league, the BUAFL (British Universities American Football League). Though with Trent breathing down their necks in fourth place, and with one game in hand, little else needs to be said about how closely matched these two will be come Sunday.
With no new additions to the Varsity calendar this year, American Football remains the newest sport to the series. Along with the fact that Sunday will mark the beginning of the 2011 series, pressure is on Outlaws to chalk up their first ever Varsity point and for the Renegades to add to their tally. For anyone who’s seen the Outlaws play or train this year however, you wouldn’t leave in any doubt that their preparation for this Sunday didn’t start a moment after the team were grudgingly congratulating their Renegade counterparts almost a year ago. And Sunday 6th February at the Harvey Hadden stadium will see their preparation come to a head.