Spencer cracks both codes

David Llewellyn talks to the rugby league Blue with unique qualificatio ns
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The Independent Online
Adrian Spencer is a man with the Blues. Three of them, to be precise. One each for representing Cambridge University at rugby league and union, the third for a year-long ban from the 15-a-side game after turning out as an amateur for a professional league side, London Crusaders, in 1993.

When a delighted Spencer trotted out on to the Twickenham turf last December in the Varsity match, he was, according to International Board regulations, no longer an amateur. The 26 or so minutes he played at centre for the victorious Light Blues were enough to win him his colours, but he was promptly banned for a year by the RFU, who were acting in accordance with IB statutory procedures.

Spencer, who first played union at Cambridge, is reluctant to speak out about his punishment, but he does admit: "I've really enjoyed playing rugby union at college and that is why I have found it a real shame that I have been banned." He says he is still trying to get reinstated. The IB meets this week in Bristol and he hopes something will come of it.

If Spencer does have to serve the full ban, it will end on 6 December this year, just six days before the 1995 Varsity match, but he quickly dismisses any thoughts that he might be able to turn out at Twickenham. "It would be ridiculous. They train for it all the way through from September and, obviously, I am not going to play a single game. So there would be no chance."

Right now Spencer has something else on his mind, the other Varsity match, featuring the 13-a-side code, which takes place at London Welsh today. Ordinarily taking on the Dark Blues of Oxford in this sport earns a half Blue, but Spencer explained: "The Blues Committee laid down two criteria for the award of a full Blue: Firstly, two years' commitment to the club; secondly, to have represented England Students or a similar standard." The 22-year-old chemical engineering student fulfiled those criteria last year and thus is unique in being a full Blue in both codes.

Spencer is steeped in league tradition. His father and grandfather both played as amateurs and since he comes from Warrington, there was little choice anyway. "I was born and bred in [the game]," he said, "and I will always prefer league to union."

It is no surprise to learn that the St John's College undergraduate is responsible for coaching the Light Blues squad. "Last year we had a lot of lads from the North, who had played league before, and we managed to keep the same team together for the whole season. This year there is only me and Dave Green from Featherstone with league experience, so we have just had to try to convert some very good union players.

"They have done as well they could have in the time they have had. I think the union boys find the fitness levels are extreme. They don't actually realise how fit you have to be."

Spencer's academic ambitions appear to rule out any hopes he may have harboured of turning pro. He wants to study for a Masters degree after graduating this year. "I will be 24 by then and that is probably too old. The league clubs are targeting and signing up 17 and 18-year-olds. But if I did move back up North I would definitely opt for a league club."

If he did return to his roots, and remained an amateur, he would be eligible to play for the BARLA Open Age side. They are currently on tour in the South Pacific. Not a bad way to shake off the Blues.