Memory of Tucker inspires Oxford

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The Independent Online
It will be a very different Varsity Match next week, for the simple reason that tragedy changes everything, writes Chris Hewett. The annual Twickenham showpiece between Oxford and Cambridge will, as usual, feature 30 privileged high-achievers with their lives ahead of them, but their presence will be overshadowed by the memory of a colleague whose life was cut short playing the game he loved.

When Quentin de Bruyn, the Oxford captain, announced his side in the usual formal fashion yesterday, he made it abundantly clear that Ian Tucker's death from head injuries in a warm-up game against Saracens at the end of October would weigh on the thoughts of the Dark Blues far beyond the events of next Tuesday.

"We are always thinking about Ian, but we owe it to ourselves as rugby players to concentrate on every ruck and every tackle during the 80 minutes at Twickenham," the Bloemfontein-born centre, who will win his second Blue next week, said. "In personal terms, we have used Ian's tragedy to forge our own links, although we hope we are good enough players not to have to depend wholly on emotion when we face Cambridge.

"The positive attitude shown by his family has inspired us to take ourselves back on to the pitch again. Some players felt that they could not face another rugby match, that they were not emotionally up to it. But I have spoken to Ian's family and friends and they have assured me that they are treating his death as a genuine accident that just happened to occur while he was playing his sport."

De Bruyn said that Oxford would not wear a No 12 shirt in memory of Tucker's death, not only next Tuesday but in all probability in future Varsity games as well. There will be a minute's silence at Twickenham, which is a 75,000 sell-out.

Oxford sprang one surprise in their team selection, preferring Nick Hockley to the Canadian international Karl Svoboda at hooker. Hockley, a member of Moseley, is now in his fourth year at the university and was last year's Greyhounds captain.

Cambridge, captained by Richard Bramley, also named their side yesterday. They include Matthew Singer, the former Neath and Saracens player, at centre following his appearance at full-back last year.

Oxford (v Cambridge, Varsity Match, Twickenham, 10 December): R Maher; C Smart, Q de Bruyn (capt), T Walsh, R Browne; J Averis, N Hogan; J Bothwell, N Hockley, D Penney, T Eisenhauer, K Spicer, M Orsler, J Kindon, C McCarthy.

Cambridge: P Surridge; N Walne, M Singer, N Hill, R Phillips; R Ashforth, B Ryan; G Reynolds, T Murphy, N Holgate, R Bramley (capt), A Craig, M Hyde, R Earnshaw, J Griffiths.

n Australia have made two changes for their final tour match against the Barbarians at Twickenham on Saturday. Sam Payne replaces George Gregan at scrum-half and the hooker Marco Caputo relegates Michael Foley to replacement duty.

AUSTRALIA (v Barbarians, Twickenham, Saturday): M Burke (New South Wales); J Roff (Australian Capital Territories), J Little (Queensland), T Horan (Queensland, capt), D Campese (NSW); P Howard (ACT), S Payne (NSW); D Crowley (Queensland), M Caputo (ACT), A Blades (NSW), D Giffin (ACT), T Gavin (NSW), D Manu (NSW) or O Finegan (ACT), M Brial (NSW), D Wilson (Queensland). Replacements: D Herbert (Queensland), R Tombs (NSW), S Larkham (ACT), B Robinson (ACT), A Heath (NSW), M Foley (Queensland).