James Horwill and Flip van der Merwe used to be rivals on the international and Super Rugby stages as professionals, but next week they will be brothers in arms as they pack down together in the 138thVarsity Match in arguably the most experienced Cambridge second row pairing of all-time.
The two 34-year-olds are already classmates on the EMBA business course at Cambridge and have had two dry runs for Twickenham in the wins over British Police and the Steele-Bodger XV. Between them they can boast 99 caps and wins over England at Twickenham in the past.
Light Blues skipper Stephen Leonard has given the thumbs up to the complete matchday 23 that won the Bodgers match 34-19 at Grange Road last week to make it four wins in a row on their way to Twickenham. There are eight former Blues in the starting XV and three more on the bench as Cambridge attempt to win back the Rhino Trophy after falling to a 38-16 defeat to arch-vials Oxford last year.
Dark Blues skipper Ed David, who will be winning his fourth Blue, has packed his side with experience as he tries to close the gap on Cambridge even further following seven wins in the last nine years. The Light Blues lead the series, which began in 1872, 63-60 with 14 games drawn.
David, whose fellow wing Tom Stileman will be appearing at Twickenham for a fifth time, is one of a dozen Blues in his starting XV, seven of who played in last year’s win. The only players who will be starting their first Varsity Match are full back Dan Stoller, ex-Northampton Saints and Richmond centre Nick Greehalgh and loose head prop Euan Friend.
“You wouldn’t be doing this if it wasn’t a challenge. The best things in life are the things you work hardest for,” said medical student, David, who missed last year’s game through injury.
“It is a game of rugby at the end of the day and you can’t win with one or two players, you need a collective effort. We went on tour to Japan when the World Cup as on and that was a great opportunity for us to build an identity.
“We wanted to get people to show their desire to play for the club and those games we played against the southern hemisphere teams in the World University Invitational Tournament were very physical. We went in as underdogs, just as we will be at Twickenham, and came out with a lot of credit.”
Former skipper George Messum is back to play at No 8 after returning to the university and the Dark Blues will go into the game on the back of a morale boosting 15-0 win over a Richmond XV last weekend.
PhD student Leonard, who will win his fourth Blue, claims to feel “quietly confident” about the big day and is full of praise for the impact and influence his two interantoinal stars have brought to the squad.
“A lot of it is just experience of being in big occasions. In the changing room before matches they just tell us to do what we’ve always done, don’t worry about the crowd and just treat it as another game,” said Leonard.
“It is the small chat that helps us. You see them on the pitch doing what they did for a decade or so for their clubs and countries.
“Every year we and the other place pick up a superstar or two and a lot gets pinned on them in terms of hopes and expectations. In reality, the best thing they can do is raise the standard in training in the build-up to the big day.
“Then the dream is they have a solid match, they don’t have to do anything ground-breaking, but the guys around them also do their jobs. It’s pretty straightforward, rather than hoping we’ve got two internationals, we’ll give them the ball every phase and see if they can win it for us.”
138THVarsity Match Teams
Dan Stoller (Wellington College & Queen’s)
Ed David * (Harrow School & St Hilda’s, captain)
Nick Greenhalgh (Uppingham & Keble)
Louis Jackson * (King Edward VI School, Stratford & Oriel)
Tom Stileman * (Cranleigh School & Christ Church)
Tom Humberstone * (Peter Symonds College & Jesus)
George Tressider * (Queen Elizabeth GS, Ashbourne & Harris Manchester)
Euan Friend (Blundell’s School & University)
John Aaron Henry * (Cambridge House GS & Brasenose)
Ben Parker * (Royal Grammar School, Newcastle & Brasenose)
Jasper Dix * (The Perse School & Oriel)
Charlie Pozniak * (Manchester GS & St Benet’s Hall)
Ryan Jones * (Ibstock Place School & St Edmund Hall)
Sam Miller * (Harrow School & St Edmund Hall)
George Messum * (Aylesbury GS & Kellogg)
Louis Wright (Dulwich College & Trinity)
Abhijeet Oswal (The Grammar School, Leeds & St Edmund Hall)
Barnaby Vaughan (Bradford GS & Corpus Christi)
George Warr * (Eton College & New)
Herbert Watson (Latymer Upper School & St Edmund Hall)
Jack Dalton (Bedford School & Keble)
Seb Haddock (Cranleigh School & St Edmund Hall) or Henry Hackett (The Perse School & Christ Church)
Henry Martin * (Marlborough College & St Benet’s Hall)
Joey Gatus * (Queen Elizabeth GS, Wakefield & Corpus Christi)
Tom Lovelace (Hurstpierpoint College & Hughes Hall)
Rory Triniman * (Canford School & Hughes Hall)
Charlie Watson (The King’s School, Canterbury & Selwyn)
Fergus Jemphrey (Sullivan Upper School & Homerton)
Mike Phillips * (Bedford Modern School & Emmanuel)
Chris Bell *(St Paul’s School & Emmanuel)
Charlie MacCallum *(Magdalen Collge School & Downing)
Miles Huppatz *(Sir JosephWilliamson’sMathematical School & Downing)
Ed Harborne (Lawrence Sheriff School & Clare)
James Horwill (Brisbane Boys College & Queens’)
Flip Van Der Merwe (Grey College & Queens’)
Tom Walton (Nottingham HS & St John’s)
Sean McMahon * (Clongowes Wood College & Gonville & Caius)
Stephen Leonard * (Llandovery College & Emmanuel, captain)
Sam Schusman * (Haberdashers’ Aske’s Boys’ School & Magdalene)
Daniel Collins (Maria Immaculata Community College, Dunmanway & Fitzwilliam)
George Cook (Brighton College & Robinson)
Rowan Beckett * (Bradford GS & Peterhouse)
Oliver Smart * (Merchant Taylors’ School & Downing)
Archie Smeaton (Hymers College & Queens’)
Al Gliksten (Harrow School & Robinson)
Dougal Russell (Havant & South Downs College & St John’s)
* Denotes Blue
Referee: JP Doyle (RFU)