Rugby Union: Cambridge seek record Varsity Match success

Oxford eager to avoid sixth successive loss in today's university rugby union showpiece.
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The Independent Online
THE KEY word hovering over today's Varsity Match at Twickenham - the 118th - must be unprecedented. Cambridge University will be aiming for an unprecedented sixth successive victory in the Bowring Bowl.

While the man masterminding that challenge, their coach Tony Rodgers, is in an unprecedented 20th year in the post. And if the next Light Blues captain, on his election next January, so desires, Rodgers could be invited (and the man himself said he would be willing) to carry on for a 21st season.

Rodgers' record is remarkable - Cambridge have won 14 matches under him since 1980. "I have had a fantastic 20 years," said Rodgers, who is 54 and comes from Shaftesbury in Dorset. Rogers admitted it was not a three- month post for one match. Far from it. "In some respects I spend 12 months on this job, whether it is going for players or whatever. Rumour has it that I also have a job, I am assistant director of estates. That essentially means I look after the University property."

Today he is looking after the University's hot properties, but typically of this fixture, neither Oxford nor Cambridge wants to go into the match as favourites. "Our form in the lead-up to this match has been pretty scratchy," insists Rodgers, who played in this fixture in the three years from 1968-70.

However, Steve Hill, his counterpart for the Dark Blues, would have none of it. "They have to be favourites going into the match," he said, before adding "we have an outstanding No 8 in Norman Celliers, and at full-back Phil Graham is also extremely talented."

The Oxford scrum-half, Jamie Weston, turned down a professional contract with Glasgow Caledonians in order to go up to Oxford and is a big fan of the fixture. "I used to skive off school to watch the Varsity Match. To play in it all these years on is fantastic," he said.

Weston, who has played for Scotland's Development XV as well as the Under- 18, 19 and 21 sides, is one of a clutch of players looking to use the match as a showpiece for their skills.

A third unprecedented aspect of this match is that afterwards the hordes of Blues followers, young and old, will not be able to celebrate or drown their sorrows in the bars for the first time since the match moved to Twickenham in 1921.

Last week Richmond magistrates rejected the Rugby Football Union's application to open the bars post-match, on the grounds that the police authorities wanted to clear the immediate neighbourhood as quickly as possible.

Some things do not change. There is the usual wedge of overseas toughs and talents, not least the Innes brothers from Australia, two of a dozen in the line-ups. Angus captains Cambridge and will be partnered by his brother Hamish in the second row, but the Light Blues suffered a blow when the South African blind-side forward Thomas Mouton dropped out yesterday because of a concussion. Andy Grabham replaces him. Oxford are also led by an overseas player, Celliers winning his second Blue, and their impressive back row includes the vastly-experienced Dave Kelaher, who wins his third Blue. He was a member of Australia's national sevens squad from 1995-98.

Cambridge's preparation has seen sessions with Zinzan Brooke, the former All Back and now coach at Harlequins, but the Light Blues were behind in the run-up with Oxford boasting wins over strong Leicester and Northampton sides. It is probably Oxford's best chance to end the run. And were they to succeed - given their form over the last five years - that too might be deemed unprecedented.

OXFORD v CAMBRIDGE

at Twickenham

PJ Graham Worcester 15 G D Paulin Hughes Hall

TE Beer Regents Park 14 G R Williams* St Edmund's

K D Shuman* Templeton 13 A R Bidwell* Hughes Hall

J C Kinniburgh Oriel 12 B Rudge Queens'

S C J Danielli Trinity 11 R J W Morrow* Hughes Hall

S E S FitzGerald Bailliol 10 K Iwabuchi St Edmund's House

E J W Weston Kellog 9 G M Peacocke* Hughes Hall

R P Lehner* Newport 1 J P Cooke St Edmund's House

P J Nicholas Brasenose 2 J J Hamilton-Smith Homerton

A S Collins* Lincoln 3 N J Hennessy Homerton

A H Russell Magdalen 4 H J M Innes* Hughes Hall

S A Miall St Anne's 5 A R Innes* Hughes Hall, capt

L C H Sheriff St Anne's 6 T A C Grabham Homerton

D J Kelaher* St Cross 7 M W D Haslett* St Catharine's

N Celliers* Keeble, capt 8 M A Count Jesus

Referee: C Thomas (Wales). *denotes Blue Kick-off: 2pm. (SkySports2)

Replacements: 16 N Marsh (Magdalen), 17 W Platt (University), 18 S Weenink (Wolfson), 19 E Hallett (Brasenose), 20 R Heaslip (Pembroke), 21 H Jeffreys (Linacre), 22 M Parker (Christ Church)

Replacements: 16 J Hughes (Peterhouse), 17 O Jones (St Edmund's), 18 N Buoy (Hughes Hall), 19 M Tweedie (Trinity), 20 D Sambrook (Fitzwilliam), 21 J Duffett (Homerton), 22 D Coetzer (Hughes Hall).

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