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James Horwill and Flip van der Merwe to take the Cambridge University RUFC fight to Oxford in the Varsity Match at Twickenham

Captain Stephen Leonard has selected eight returning Blues for Cambridge University’s starting line-up to face Oxford in the 138th Varsity Match at Twickenham on Thursday, December 12 (kick off 3pm).

There are also a further three returnees on the bench as the Light Blues bid to win back the Rhino Trophy after last year’s 38-16 defeat to the Dark Blues.

But taking top billing are two newcomers - locks James Horwill and Flip van der Merwe.

The former internationals boast 99 caps between them including wins over England at Twickenham, Horwill for Australia and van der Merwe for South Africa, and the Judge Business School students will line-up together in the second row to face Oxford.

Tom Lovelace, Fergus Jemphrey and Charlie Watson will earn their first Blues in the backs, while Tom Walton is a product of the Light Blues’ system, stepping up to start at blind-side flanker.

Among those returning on a bench of what the captain has already described as his “finishers” are Sam Schusman, Rowan Beckett and Oliver Smart.

“A lot of it is just experience of being in big occasions,” said skipper Leonard, of Horwill and van der Merwe.

“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.

“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.”

Oxford have named 12 Blues in their starting XV, including captain Ed David, who will be earning his fourth Blue.

Newcomers for the Dark Blues are full-back Dan Stoller, ex-Northampton Saints centre Nick Greenhalgh 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.”

Cambridge University: Joey Gatus * (Corpus Christi); Tom Lovelace ( Hughes Hall), Rory Triniman * (Hughes Hall), Charlie Watson (Selwyn), Fergus Jemphrey (Homerton); Mike Phillips * (Emmanuel), Chris Bell *(Emmanuel); Charlie MacCallum *(Downing), Miles Huppatz *(Downing), Ed Harborne (Clare), James Horwill (Queens’), Flip Van Der Merwe (Queens’), Tom Walton (St John’s), Sean McMahon * (Gonville & Caius), Stephen Leonard * (Emmanuel).

Replacements: Sam Schusman * (Magdalene), Daniel Collins (Fitzwilliam), George Cook (Robinson), Rowan Beckett * (Peterhouse), Oliver Smart * (Downing), Archie Smeaton (Queens’), Al Gliksten (Robinson), Dougal Russell (St John’s).

Oxford University: Dan Stoller (Queen’s); Ed David * (St Hilda’s), Nick Greenhalgh (Uppingham), Louis Jackson * (Oriel), Tom Stileman * (Christ Church); Tom Humberstone * (Jesus), George Tressider * (Harris Manchester); Euan Friend (University), John Aaron Henry * (Brasenose), Ben Parker * (Brasenose), Jasper Dix * (Oriel), Charlie Pozniak * (St Benet’s Hall), Ryan Jones * (St Edmund Hall), Sam Miller * (St Edmund Hall), George Messum * (Kellogg).

Replacements: Louis Wright (Trinity), Abhijeet Oswal (St Edmund Hall), Barnaby Vaughan (Corpus Christi), George Warr * (New), Herbert Watson (St Edmund Hall), Jack Dalton (Keble), Seb Haddock (St Edmund Hall) or Henry Hackett (Christ Church), Henry Martin * (St Benet’s Hall).

Read more:

Chris Bell chimes a chord as one of Cambridge University RUFC's leaders in Varsity Match build-up

Joey Gatus grows in stature in a fearsome Cambridge University RUFC back three as Varsity Match approaches

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