Sheriff adds beef to Oxford's backs

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The Independent Online

Oxford University will go in search of a hat-trick of victories in the 120th Varsity Match at Twickenham next Tuesday relying on an outside centre who has played just four games in the No 13 jersey.

Luke Sheriff, a 6ft 4in, 16st 7lb graduate, who is reading for an MSc in Genetics and Evolution, began this season as blindside flanker, from which position he has won his previous two Blues.

"I have a bit of pace, I played Sevens for England in the summer and in the last couple of seasons I have kept up with the backs, so with that in mind it was obvious it was not going to be too big a switch."

Steve Hill, Oxford's director of rugby, denied that the move was a gamble. "I don't see it as a risk. Luke is a good player and brings power to the midfield as well as an ability to steal the ball once he has made the tackle."

That Sheriff has made it into the side out of position is evidence that Oxford felt the need to beef up against the swift Cambridge back line, but before any threequarter can get his hands on the ball possession has to be won by the respective packs.

And as a mark of their determination to get back to their winning ways of the previous decade when the Light Blues strung together five victories on the trot, Cambridge have wielded the selectorial axe, leaving out four Blues (three from the pack) from last year and an Oxford Blue, Nick Humphries, who played on the wing in the 1998 annual encounter between Oxford and Cambridge University.

Tony Rodgers, Hill's counterpart at Cambridge, admitted: "It comes down to the packs. If we can hold them up front then we will be in with a chance. But in the last couple of years the matches have been close. This year I think it will be even closer."

CAMBRIDGE: A Newmarch; S Moffat (both St Edmund's), S Adams (Fitzwilliam), M Rivaro, J Baker (both Hughes Hall); S Howard (St Edmund's), M Chapman-Smith (Hughes Hall); A O'Brien (St Edmund's), C Collins (Wolfson), D Brett (Trinity Hall), A Innes (Hughes Hall), E Mallett (St Edmund's), M Graham (King's), M Count (Jesus, capt), D Blaikie (Hughes Hall).

OXFORD: N Marsh (Magdalen); W Rubie (Brasenose), L Sheriff (St Anne's), S Adlen (Jesus), W Ellerby (St Hugh's); S Fitzgerald (Balliol), D Taberner (Worcester); K Tkachuk (Kellog), P Nicholas (Brasenose), R Lehner (Kellog), A Russell (Magdalen), C Edwards (Balliol), S Miall (Pembroke), B Robinson (Waldhan, capt), J Bolger (St Peter's).