Jasper Dix may be giving away three inches in height, four stones in weight and 12 years in playing experience, but he believes youth can still overcome experience in the 138th Varsity Match at Twickenham today (Thursday, 3.00pm kick-off).
The 21-year-old Oxford second row will be up against former Australian skipper James Horwill in what is going to be the toughest examination of his student days. It will be a similar story for his boilerhouse partner Charlie Pozniak, who goes head-to-head with ex-Springbok Flip van der Merwe.
But the Dark Blue undergrads are ready to rise to the challenge of taking on two test players boasting 99 caps between them in what could be a key battle as Cambridge attempt to win back the Rhino trophy and stop Oxford from ending the decade with a record eight wins.
“It doesn’t get any bigger than this for Charlie and myself. I learned a lot from playing alongside George Robson last season and, even though we are going to be up against it facing two world-class locks, we won’t treat it any differently to the last occasion,” said Dix, son of former Wallaby tourist and Cambridge Blue David Dix.
“They are coming to the end of their illustrious careers and we’ve just got to go out there and really give it to them. The Varsity Match is played at such a fast and furious tempo that it is going to be uncomfortable even for players of their stature and experience.
“We are just concentrating on ourselves and not worrying about anyone else. We are playing a good enough brand of rugby and we are very much in our own bubble, especially among the forwards.”
Cambridge come into their biggest game of the season on the back of a four match winning streak and with skipper Stephen Leonard proclaiming himself to be “quietly confident”. Saracens centre Charlie Watson will win his first Blue and Gibraltan international Tom Lovelace gets his first run out at Twickenham on the wing.
Oxford were led to victory by Dom Waldouck last season and had ex-Harlequins lock George Robson in the second row and former England U20 and Saracens full back Ben Ransom as their main attacking option.
“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,” said Leonard.
“It’s very nice having recruited two players with 99 caps between them, but rugby is a team sport and we know that two players, even of their stature, aren’t going to win us the game on their own.
“They don’t have to do anything ground-breaking, just play their normal games, but the guys around them have to 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.
“We have a group of 24/25 guys you would happily put into a Varsity Match. It can happen that you have a squad of 15 and a few others and the rest of the bench is there hoping nobody else gets injured.
“This season we’ve got 15 guys who are starting who we know will do a massive job and we’ve got people who will come off the bench and bring massive intensity. The younger guys come on after 50-60 minutes and bring with them loads of energy.”
The Light Blues lead 63-60 in a series of matches that dates back to 1872. The game will be preceded by the Women’s varsity Match (11.30am kick-off) and both games are live on ITV 4.
138TH Varsity 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)
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 & Girton)
Charlie MacCallum *(Magdalen Collge School & Downing)
Miles Huppatz *(Sir Joseph Williamson’s Mathematical 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)