Strength and conditioning expert Leanne Nothard has been handed the task of getting Edinburgh Napier Knights in top shape for Sunday’s crunch capital gridiron derby.
Leanne, 23, has been preparing the Knights for the 2016 Varsity Trophy match against Edinburgh University Predators in an afternoon of city sporting drama which earlier sees Hearts take on Hibs in the Scottish Cup.
Hundreds of tickets have already been sold for the American Football showpiece at Meggetland Stadium, which is preceded by a programme of family entertainment and which organisers hope will pull in a crowd of more than 1500 for the first time.
Primed for success
Leanne believes the Knights have got what it takes to successfully defend the trophy against their city rivals in a match which kicks off just hours ahead of Super Bowl 50 between the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers in California.
The 5ft 7ins 66kg Edinburgh Napier sports science student, who is dwarfed by the bulky players she coaches, said: “I have seen a lot of improvement in the Knights players since I started working with them last semester, so the Predators will have their hands full.
“I leave tactics to others, but I do know that the weight lifting and other work we do has made the players robust enough to handle the intense physical demands of the sport.”
Leanne, a former pupil of Holy Rood High School from Peffermill, Edinburgh, added: “It is the first all-male team I have worked with and there is a lot of banter, but I have been doing weight lifting for two years which I think earns me an element of respect as a coach.”
The Knights won last year’s Varsity Trophy match 16-0, ending a losing streak, but this year’s fixture has added intensity because it is critical to both teams’ hopes of making the play-offs in the British Universities & Colleges Sport league in which they compete.
Graduates and former players from all over the world, including Ireland, Germany and the USA, are coming back to Edinburgh for the 5th annual Varsity game, which will be preceded by entertainment from a swing band, DJ, cheerleaders, face painters, a medieval knights display and a ‘Come and Try’ session for youngsters.
Among the far-travelled will be the Knights’ defensive coordinator Scott Smith, 26. The Centrica worker took a job in Leicester in preference to one in South Africa so that he could continue to travel back to Edinburgh every weekend to coach the team.
Knights’ head coach Pete Laird, who has been invited to coach the Great Britain student team as defensive coordinator at this summer’s World Championships in Mexico, said this Sunday’s derby match was a mouth-watering prospect.
He said: “It will be a top class day of entertainment for all of the family as usual, but the game itself will have an added intensity this year.
“After our victories in last year’s Varsity march and our away fixture against the Predators in December, they will be desperate to win back city bragging rights, and the match is also going to be crucial to both sides’ prospects of success this season.”
Gates open at 1pm ahead of a 2.30pm kick off. Entry is free for under 16s, £4 for adults and £2 for students with ticket prices including admission to Edinburgh’s biggest Super Bowl party on Sunday evening at The Three Sisters pub in the Cowgate. They are available in advance from Napier Students Association or payable at the gate.