The Cambridge captain, Stephen Leonard, is trying to find a cure for cancer through his PhD, while the Oxford prop John Aaron Henry has spent all of the last year working on the COVID vaccine trials.
There are medics throughout the four teams who will play in the two Varsity Matches at the Mattioli Woods Welford Road Stadium on Sunday, 4 July, and they are all very grateful to have some fans back in the ground to give them a proper clap – or jeer if things don’t work out!
The men’s Varsity Match reaches its 150th anniversary next year and it is fair to say there has never been a game like the one that is about to be served up in Leicester since the first kick-off in 1872. With a reduced capacity crowd, and adapted laws, it will be game without precedent.
But it will be a game. It will be Oxford v Cambridge and the former will be doing all it can to avoid another clean-sweep of the two trophies by the latter this weekend.
There were Light Blue ribbons flying everywhere the last time these two great institutions clashed at Twickenham in December, 2019. A lot has happened since then, but nothing that could dampen the fire in both camps.
Among the newcomers to the big game will be American Eagles international back rower Andrew Durutalo. He will be the only capped player in the men’s match, but there will be three in the women’s game.
Born in New York City, but raised in Fiji, he will become the first Fijian to play in the Varsity Match in its 139th edition. Suva Grammar School should feel rightly proud of an alumnus who has already played at the Rugby World Cup and the Olympic Games and is now studying for an EMBA.
“I’ve always known about the Varsity Match, admitted the 33-year-old Durutalo, who spent four years playing professionally in England at Worcester Warriors and Ealing. “I wanted to further my career in business and so it seemed like the perfect time to go back to school.
“I always promised myself that if I was fit enough and young enough I would try to play in the Varsity Match because of the quality of so many of their former players and the privilege of being involved in something that has such great tradition.
“When I won my first cap for the USA it was alongside my great friend Derek Asbun, who played in the 2011 Oxford side and he told me what a great place in was. I also got the low down from the Team GB sevens captain Tom Mitchell when I played with him in a tournament in Bermuda last year.
“So, here I am playing rugby in a completely different setting to what I’ve been used to and loving it. I’m selected to play against Cambridge and I simply can’t wait to sample the occasion.
“As far as I know the only other player with a south sea island pedigree to play in the Varsity Match is Lisiate Fifita in 2017 and I’m proud to be the first Fijian. I hope I can use this honour to prove to the children from my old school, and from the whole of Fiji, that you can go on to study at places like Oxford as well as reach your sporting goals.”
On that front, he will become the seventh American international to play for Oxford in a lineage that goes back to Alan Valentine almost 100 years ago. Valentine played in three successive Varsity Matches, 1923-25, and became an Olympic Gold medalist in Paris in 1924 when he helped the USA side beat France in the rugby union final.
Another American athlete who left an indelible mark at Iffley Road was Pete Dawkins, who introduced the torpedo throw at the line-out. He arrived from West Point in 1959 having been crowned the winner of The Heisman Trophy as the best College Football player in the country.
Winners of that award are normally first pick in the draft for the professional game and many other winners went on to become Super Bowl champions. Hawkins contented himself with three Varsity Matches at Twickenham and an Oxford education.
As for Durutalo, he can’t wait to get his hands on the ball on Sunday and put his best foot forward as the Dark Blues attempt to stop Cambridge making it four wins in the last five outings.
“The law variations are going to make it very interesting. The ball in play time could be near 50 minutes – it is going to be exhausting without any scrum or mauls,” added Durutalo, who has a full-time job in Seattle in the insurance business to go back to when he completes his business course.
“There will be a lot more high speed contact because you have to run everything and it is almost the same as rugby league. My role will be to nurse the youngsters through the tough times and to provide a cool head.
“There will be a lot of adrenalin pumping and we need to ensure we play in the right areas and in the right way.”