Blue is the colour
December 8, 2011
Oxford's Brian Smith passes the ball on © Getty Images
The 130th Varsity Match will take place at Twickenham on Thursday with Cambridge and Oxford set to renew their age-old rivalry.
Over the years some of the world's greatest players have donned the dark blue of Oxford and the light blue sported by Cambridge with many of those also boasting Rugby World Cup pedigree. This year is no different with Cambridge captained by former Canadian international Matt Guinness-King - who turned out for the Canucks in the 2003 World Cup.
The nine-cap centre - who also appeared for Cambridge in the 2010 match - follows in a long list of stellar names who have graced both a World Cup and a Varsity match - a fact celebrated by the latest edition of Scrum Sevens that includes a World Cup winning-captain, one of rugby's great comeback kings and a former England coach.
David Kirk - New Zealand and Oxford
Kirk captained the All Blacks to World Cup glory in 1987 in what many thought was surely going to be the first of many. The scrum-half, who famously boycotted the 1986 tour to South Africa along with team-mate John Kirwan due to that country's apartheid system, stepped up to lead his country at the sport's first World Cup after original skipper Andy Dalton was ruled out on the eve of the tournament with an injury.
New Zealand powered into the final where Kirk played a key role, scoring a try to help dispatch France 29-9. Kirk would only play one more time for the Kiwis - against Australia in July 1987 - before leaving to take up a Rhodes Scholarship at Worcester College, Oxford, to read PPE. He played in the 1987 and 1988 Varsity matches - winning the second. Fellow New Zealand international Anton Oliver also went to Worcester College and lined up in the 2008 Varsity.
Mike Hall - Wales and Cambridge
Hall left Cambridge University in 1988 to take up a post with a Cardiff-based property surveyor but by this time he had already turned out for Wales and in the Varsity Match. Hall played for Cambridge against Kirk in 1987 and 1988 and the centre was on the winning side in the first of those two clashes with Cambridge outscoring their rivals three tries to one.
The Welsh centre appeared in the 1991 World Cup starting against France, Western Samoa, Argentina and Australia. He went on to accrue 43 caps scoring seven tries in the process. Hall is a former rugby pundit and is now involved with Cardiff City football club.
Brian Smith - Australia, Ireland and Oxford
Finding himself behind Nick Farr-Jones and Michael Lynagh in the Wallabies' pecking order, Brian Smith turned his back on his international career to pursue a one-year course at Oxford. However, after enjoying his first year - which included lining up alongside Kirk in the 1988 Varsity - Smith ended up transferring to a full three-year course. He went on to captain the Oxford side in the 1989 Varsity clash, but they lost 22-13.
Smith added Ireland to his international CV before taking on coaching roles with Bath, London Irish and then England, but he still looks back on his time at Oxford with fondness. "I'm a kid from the Bush in Australia - I grew up in the Outback to a certain extent, so going to Oxford, well, it was a magical place," Smith said. "The architecture blew me away - the wonderful sandstone buildings and the colleges were just beautiful. If you took the cars away and changed everyone's fashion, you could have been there at any time over a 500 year span. It really is a magical place and it was a great time."
Phil de Glanville - England and Oxford
The England centre turned out in the 1995 and 1999 World Cups during an international career that earned him 38 Test caps. De Glanville was handed the England captaincy in 1996 following Will Carling's demotion in the wake of his 'old farts' outburst his midfield rival's partnership with Jeremy Guscott would eventually limit his international outings.
De Glanville turned out in the 1990 Varsity Match for Oxford after spending three years at Durham doing an Economics degree. That specific year boasted a host of international stars with the likes of Welsh international Adrian Davies and Japan's Toshiyuki Hayashi also playing who along with De Glanville helped Oxford claim a 21-12 win.
David Humphreys - Ireland and Oxford
After captaining the Irish Schools team to a Triple Crown in 1990, Humphreys opted to study law at Queen's University of Belfast. His career began to take shape at Ulster before he took a year out to journey to Oxford where his star continued to rise with a record-equalling 19 points (a try, conversion, drop goal and three penalties) in the 1995 Varsity Match. But it was not enough to prevent Cambridge running away with the spoils with the light blues scoring the winning points 50 seconds into extra time.
His Ireland debut followed a year later and he went on to play in the 1999 and 2003 World Cups. Humphreys qualified as a solicitor and joined the same law firm as Mike Gibson - a fellow Varsity participant and Ireland international - and went on to accrue 72 caps for Ireland.
Simon Danielli - Scotland and Oxford
Born in Edinburgh, Danielli studied at Cheltenham College before going to Oxford's Trinity College to study Philosophy and Theology. During this time he shared in two Oxford victories in both 1999 and 2000 and could lay claim to being one of the few Scottish players to have triumphed at English rugby's HQ in recent times. Danielli went onto feature in the 2003 and 2011 World Cups for the national side but has never forgotten his university days.
"I've won at Twickenham before, twice in the dark blue of Oxford, and those varsity matches are among the best memories of my rugby career," Danielli said. "Elements of those occasions are so unique and even though it's old school we had some terrific camaraderie and sunk a few beers.
"We played several top-quality sides - I remember once playing Bath and they had a number of British Lions in their line-up and everything in the season builds to the varsity game. There's a chance to claim a few big scalps on the way but I recall winning very few games one year yet we came from behind to defeat Cambridge and the whole campaign was considered a success. That's the uniqueness of it - lose every game in the season yet win the last one and it's a success."
Dan Vickerman - Australia and Cambridge
Having featured at the 2003 and 2007 World Cups for Australia, Vickerman was firmly established on the international scene. But in 2008 he chose to withdraw from the Wallabies to pursue a degree at Cambridge University and went on to play in the 2008 Varsity Match and skipper the side the following year.
Vickerman led the light blues to a 31-27 victory in 2009 and returned to Australia in time for the 2011 Super Rugby competition where he did enough to force his way back into the international reckoning. Vickerman was a fundamental part of the Wallabies side during the 2011 World Cup, playing five of their seven games.
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Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.