Rugby Union: Surridge a student in the All Black tradition

Paul Trow finds the brother of a tourist relishing his chance in the limelight
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The Independent Online
New Zealanders, aren'tya sick of them? Fifteen of them, plus substitutes, rampaged around Twickenham yesterday, and at least four more will be invading rugby's HQ again on Tuesday for the Varsity Match.

The powder-blue shirts of Cambridge University might be as far removed colour-wise as is possible from the uncompromising All Black jersey, but the true hue of Kiwi rugby is the urge to give 100 per cent whatever the cost, whether you're playing your first international or for the office third XV.

Paul Surridge, who wins his second blue for Cambridge on Tuesday, is carved from precisely this mould. The 25-year-old geography post-graduate, who kicked two penalties and two conversions in last year's 23-7 defeat of Oxford, has served his dues and has family honour to uphold as well.

His older brother Steve, 27, played at No 8 in the 1995 Cambridge team who stumbled over the finishing line 21-19. Since then, Steve has unobtrusively climbed the ladder to take his place in the waiting-room for rugby's ultimate honour, an All Black cap. He is a member of the squad who have just laid waste to the British Isles and played a crucial role in the midweek team's eclipse of England A last Tuesday. And with the great Zinzan Brooke bringing the curtain down on his illustrious international career in order to take the Quins' shilling, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to work out that Steve is now just one rung away from the very top.

Paul (there are two more brothers - David, 22, and John, 19, who have both played representative rugby for their native Auckland) is not getting carried away, though, about being related to a fully fledged All Black.

"There's a lot of competition and, even though Zinzan's retiring, Steve's got a way to go. This is only his first All Blacks tour, but obviously he's now under pressure to see how far he can go," said Paul. "Steve and I applied to Cambridge together two years ago. He got in but I missed out. He had a great year and that made me doubly determined to apply again. I'm not too sure whether I'll stay at Cambridge next season. I'll make my mind up after my course ends in June, but I'd like to use my degree over here. I'd love to play club rugby in England but I'm only here on a student visa and if I renew that for a further two years I won't be allowed to play professional sport. After the Varsity Match, I'll carry on playing for Cambridge between January and March, but all I'm concerned with is playing well on Tuesday."

Varsity victory apart, Surridge, who no doubt inherited his athleticism from his father, a former footballer, and mother, a one-time ballerina, seems surprisingly uncertain about his other rugby ambitions. "I'd like to carry on playing first-class rugby for the next few years, but to do that I've got to play consistently even though I think I need a few more yards of pace. I've had a few games for Auckland in the Super 12 and the national provincial championship, and I played for the New Zealand Universities' team from 1992 to 1996, so I'm confident about what I can do.

"Playing in the Cheltenham & Gloucester Cup over the last month or so has been quite tough. We've had a match every three days for the last few weeks against good opposition which has been the ideal preparation for the Varsity Match.

"I need to stay fit, obviously, but at least I'm still in once piece. It's a pretty physical game and you do get injuries every now and again. I've certainly had my fair share. My left knee needed a reconstruction in 1993 and I've had an operation on a dislocated left shoulder. I've also had some knocks on my head and I used to get a lot of headaches. I haven't had too many recently, but that's something I've got to watch. At the moment I've got a clean bill of health."

Courage under fire, not to mention a bombardment of high balls, is a rugby player's greatest asset, and the Light Blues' last line of defence has no shortage of that commodity. This season, we have paid homage to the fabulous Brooke boys but come the next All Blacks tour to Britain we could well be praising the Surridge brothers in arms.

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