When you have been confronted by a grizzly bear in the wilds of Canada, and faced up to the rugby might of the New Zealand All Blacks at the recent World Cup, the prospect of playing centuries-old rivals at Twickenham holds few fears. At least not for Kevin Tkachuk.
Anyway, the Oxford University and Canada prop has been here before, twice, experiencing a victory two years ago and defeat last season. He still has a healthy respect for this ancient, and in some eyes, anachronistic rugby fixture.
"My anxiety level will be quite low, partly because I have played in it before, and partly because I have just played in the World Cup, but the actual pressure of the day will still be immense, because you know it is your only chance," he said.
He has also just experienced the All Blacks pre-match haka and said: "I was not scared by the haka, in fact I was incredibly fired up, more fired up than I have ever been in my life. They say they do it for themselves, but I cannot see anyone facing it and not getting enthused. That fired me up more than any other thing I have ever encountered in my life."
The other big encounter of his life had a somewhat different effect on him. Tkachuk loves fishing and was out in the Canadian backwoods when, as he explained, he had a brush with mortality.
"When I am in Canada I really enjoy the outdoors," he said. "I fish as much as possible, and do downhill mountain biking. One day when I was fishing I came across a grizzly bear in the wild. At that moment you realise just how small you are, how insignificant you are. You know that at any time that bear decides he wants you he can have you. And you get a horrible feeling in your stomach. You are aware that you could only have a few moments left to live. At times like these even a prop forward can feel small."
But small is not how he will be feeling when he trots out on to the Twickenham turf today. Indeed, he is hoping that the atmosphere and tension can be added to by the World Cup factor. "I hope the emotional wave of World Cup euphoria will continue. This is the first game at Twickenham this year and I hope people will come out to support the Varsity Match.
"It is good for rugby that there is this wave. I am not exactly the greatest England rugby fan, but I am living here in England and embracing it as much as possible and I give them full credit for winning the World Cup. It was good to see the Cup coming to the northern hemisphere for the first time."
As for his own country's performance, Tkachuk said: "I was not disappointed with Canada's World Cup in the end, as the tournament went on we improved and the game against New Zealand was incredible. I can't tell you how exciting that was."
But he would like to see the lesser countries be given more help by the authorities. "We need more matches, but it is not simply a question of more games. In the past we have had tournaments, where you get together for five days, play a Test match then go away for another two weeks, before repeating the cycle. That is taking two steps forward and one back. What we need is commitment to the next World Cup, from the IRB [International Rugby Board] and RWC [Rugby World Cup], and that means more money so that we can run proper training camps and get the team together on a proper basis."
For the moment, though, his thoughts are on a small corner of England, and a big stage for Varsity rugby. Oxford's muscular pack and sharp backs may have the edge on the Light Blues. But Tkachuk takes nothing for granted. "The Cambridge scrum is quite big as well, they have quite a big set of forwards and we will be facing a good challenge there." Still more teddy bear than grizzly.Reuse content