Blue is the colour
December 9, 2010
Mike Gibson played in Varsity Matches in 1963, 1964 and 1965 © PA Photos
On Thursday, Twickenham will play host to the 129th Varsity Match between Oxford and Cambridge. With one of the amateur era's biggest days in mind we've taken a look at some of the players, from both hemispheres, to have lit up the stage in our latest Scrum Seven.
Mike Gibson - Cambridge & Ireland
One of Ireland's greatest players, if not the greatest, Gibson's Varsity appearances help to form the patchwork quilt of one of the sport's most celebrated careers. A lawyer, Gibson won a then-record 69 caps for his country between 1964 and 1979, being drafted into the Ireland side for a famous winning debut against England following his exploits in Cambridge's 1963 Varsity victory. A British & Irish Lions tourist on five occasions, he won 12 Test caps and was an instrumental figure in one of the game's great backlines, the victorious 1971 vintage that conquered the All Blacks. In 1968 he also became rugby's first replacement when called from the bench to replace an injured Barry John as the Lions lost to South Africa in Pretoria. Following his retirement in 1979 Gibson continued to practice as a solicitor and was one of the first 15 inductees into the inaugural International Rugby Hall of Fame.
Joe Roff - Oxford & Australia
Roff played a key role in Australia's golden era at the turn of the Millennium. In a frantic two-year period between 1999 and 2001 Roff and the Wallabies won the Rugby World Cup, two Tri-Nations titles and series against the Lions - in which he scored a pivotal brace to secure victory in the second Test. Roff also climbed to the top of the Super Rugby ladder on two occasions, winning the title in 2001 and 2004 and during a year long sojourn with Biarritz in France he also captured the 2002 French Championship crown. Following his final Test, in 2004 against the Pacific Islands, Roff enjoyed a spell in Japan before heading to Oxford in order to study Philosophy, Politics and Economics. He played his first Varsity Match in 2006, ending on the losing side, and repeated the feat as captain the following year. Again Cambridge got the upper hand to deny Roff a winning send-off to his playing career.
Gavin Hastings - Cambridge & Scotland
Hastings captained Cambridge to a narrow one-point loss in the 1985 Varsity Match, his second, a year before his Test debut and four years before his boot and powerful attacking surges helped the Lions to victory in Australia. One of the legends of the Scottish game, 'Big Gav' won a Grand Slam with Scotland the following year in 1990 and in 1993 was entrusted with the captaincy of the Lions for a controversial series in New Zealand. Hastings hung up his boots in 1995, the same year in which he rounded off Gregor Townsend's 'toony flip' for Scotland to win in Paris for the first time in 26 years. He played at three Rugby World Cups and for a time held the points record at the tournament, although his costly missed penalty in the 1991 quarter-final against England remains a pivotal moment in his career.
Ronald Poulton - Oxford & England
A brilliant centre and one of the foremost players of the early 20th century, Poulton holds the record for most tries in a Varsity Match, having crossed for five in the 1909 edition. Poulton played 17 times for England between 1909 and 1914, also turning out for the Barbarians and Harlequins. He captained his country during their 1913-14 Grand Slam season before volunteering for service with the Royal Berkshire regiment in 1914. He was killed by a sniper's bullet during during the First World War whilst fighting at Ploegsteert Wood on May 4, 1915.
Rob Andrew - Cambridge & England
Andrew's graduation to the Test arena against Romania in January 1985 came off the back of a trio of Varsity victories between 1982 and 1984, culminating with a 32-6 hammering of Oxford. He was at the time an expressive, open player but would make his name as a ruthless fly-half with the team's needs always at the forefront of his mind. He would later win five caps for the Lions, in 1989 and 1993, play at three World Cups and drive the England sides that registered Grand Slams in 1991, 1992 and 1995. His impact on the game did not lessen following his move behind the scenes, with success following as director of rugby at Newcastle before he was installed as the RFU's director of elite rugby in 2006.
David Kirk - Oxford & New Zealand
New Zealand's World Cup-winning captain, Kirk was renowned for his thoughtful character as much as his appetite for a sniping break. A scrum-half with Otago and Auckland, he courted controversy among some of his peers when refusing to tour South Africa with the rebel Cavaliers in 1986 but later captained the 'Baby Blacks' against Australia and France, while the tourists were serving a suspension. At the World Cup he overcame indifference to his talents, and also the fact that Andy Haden was made captain for the tournament, to lead the All Blacks to their only title. Haden's injury before their opener against Italy opened the door for Sean Fitzpatrick at hooker and Kirk as skipper and neither looked back. Kirk played one further Test following their final win over France, against Australia, before packing his bags for Oxford on a Rhodes scholarship. He played in the 1987 and 1988 Varsity matches, winning the second.
Dan Vickerman - Cambridge & Australia
The presence of Vickerman, a Wallaby lock with 54 Test caps to his name, in the Cambridge starting line-up at the 2008 Varsity Match was not the only curio, with a Trans-Tasman flavour provided by the selection of former All Black hooker Anton Oliver in the Oxford front-row. Oliver won out on that day but Vickerman, who was studying Land Economy, returned in 2009 to captain the light blues to victory. He later announced that he would be returning to Australia with the Waratahs in 2011 in a bid to play at next year's Rugby World Cup, which would be his third.
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