Ollie Phillips has waited all his career to play in the Varsity Match, but his first will be his last as he signs-off on his illustrious career at Twickenham today.
The 35-year-old wing had to fight to get clearance from insurers to make his Cambridge debut in the world’s biggest amateur fixture, but there is no other place the 2009 IRB World Sevens Player of the Year would rather be than at the home of English rugby for his final fling.
“Playing in the Varsity Match is something I’ve always wanted to do, ever since I was at Durham University. I nearly came to Cambridge straight after that, but I was very fortunate in that I got offered the opportunity to play professionally by Rob Andrew,” said Phillips.
“That was the route I went down, but I never dreamt I would end up finishing my career at Grange Road and with the Light Blues. When my injury hit there were a few issues with getting me cleared from an insurance perspective.
“I was forced out of the professional game because I severed the nerve in my calf. I had a whole series of operations and neural issues which made a return a step too far.
“It’s a really high standard of rugby at Cambridge, but you can manage your body, sit out of training if you need to, and that’s what’s been great for me. James Shanahan (coach) and Charlie Amesbury (captain) have managed me and given me the opportunity to play in the Light Blue.
“For some people it might not mean much, but for me it’s genuinely the best way to close my career and I cannot wait. It took a lot longer than we all anticipated or hoped, but now it’s done and, hopefully, I can finally get the opportunity to fulfil what will be a lifelong ambition for me.”
Phillips launched his rugby career at Brighton College and was capped by England at England Under 16, 18 and. He went on to play for England Saxons, played for England at three World Cup Sevens tournaments and spent time playing professionally at Newcastle Falcons, Sale Sharks, Gloucester Rugby and Stade Francais Paris.
“It will be a huge honour and a very, very special occasion both for me and the group of players to play in the Varsity Match. It is a game that has an aura about it – it’s everything that is special about amateur rugby,” added Phillips.
“To get an opportunity to be part of it is special because there is so much history, so much heritage attached to the fixture. It will rank as one my most proudest moments.
“Last season’s victory meant an awful lot for Cambridge University and the guys involved. It’s our responsibility to carry that mantra forwards and try and to get a second win in a row.
“The atmosphere we have in this group is incredibly special. We’re students’ who live a student life, but we’re part of a special history and you can’t be anything other than immensely proud to do that.”
Phillips is in the second year of studying for an Executive Masters in Business, looking at looking how you can best be equipped to handle issues like marketing. He is already a director at Price Water House Coopers.
But today he is one of three ex-professionals in the Cambridge ranks, along with Amesbury and Nick Koster, who are charged with leading the youngsters through one of the biggest examinations of their rugby playing lives. He can’t wait for the test to begin!
“Jamie Roberts went off with a dead leg when he played, and so couldn’t impact the game much, but I think having the experience of professionals helps on a knowledge transfer basis. What I love is the energy and excitement of the younger or more amateur guys,” said Phillips.
“They want to have a go and play hard, but also celebrate hard on and off the field. That’s what’s so great about this.
“Visualising running out at Twickenham gets me – it’s the end of a love story for me. I adored my time as a professional rugby player, I enjoyed it immensely, but it will be closure and the end I hoped to write.
“Originally I’m from the south coast in Brighton, but there is something special about Cambridge. I can see why it’s the fastest growing city in the UK. I just love being here and being a part of it and after playing in the Varsity Match I hope I can be part of it eternally.”