IN EARLY 2010 Fraser Gillies held his nerve to kick Edinburgh Academy Under-18s to success at Murrayfield and this afternoon he is hoping for more glory – this time with Cambridge University at Twickenham.
The 133rd Varsity Match between Cambridge and old rivals Oxford University kicks-off at 2.30pm at the home of English rugby and has added significance this year.
That is because the encounter is dedicated to the 55 Blues who died in the First World War and Gillies and two other Scots – George Smith (Cambridge) and Graeme MacGilchrist (Oxford) – are honoured to be a part of it.
Gillies, who is studying for a masters at Cambridge, will start the match at inside centre.
He arrived at the university this summer following a great schoolboy career with the Academy during which he captained them to the Brewin Dolphin Scottish Schools Cup in 2009/10 – kicking the winning penalty in the last minute to defeat Stewart’s Melville College 13-11.
He also captained Scotland Under-17s and spent 2010/11 in France with the Racing Metro academy before completing a degree at Exeter University.
On arrival in Cambridge, a summer tour to America with the rugby club helped him to get involved early on and he has really enjoyed the season so far.
Gillies said: “I still have very fond memories of playing for the Academy at Murrayfield, so now to get the chance to run out at Twickenham is exciting too.
“After school I had a great year in France and when I headed to Exeter to study it was great that there was a good level of rugby at the university. The club also had links to Exeter Chiefs so that exposed us to quality coaching.
CONNECT WITH THE SCOTSMAN
• Subscribe to our daily newsletter (requires registration) and get the latest news, sport and business headlines delivered to your inbox every morning
“On moving to Cambridge, the tour this summer helped me to get to know the guys and really get to grips with the standard of rugby that was played here.
“We have had a good season so far, but everything builds up to the Varsity Match. It is the one that everybody talks about and there is always a big crowd there so I cannot wait to get out there.
“Oxford have won the last four matches, but we are heading into this one in pretty good form and we just need to worry about our own game and take things from there.”
Outside Gillies on the left wing will be former Glenalmond pupil Smith.
He is also getting his first taste of action in the big match, but has previous experience in playing in the under-21 clash between the two sides.
Having begun playing rugby at McLaren Rugby Club in Callander he went on to play at school, as well as enjoying hockey and cricket, before leaving Glenalmond in 2011.
He has found that his rugby has flourished under the watchful eye of experienced coaches at Cambridge and he is delighted to have been able to force his way into the first XV this season.
“Playing in the under-21s matches gave me an inkling as to how big the main match was because everybody is talking about it in the build-up,” Smith said.
“I have worked hard to get into the first XV and to be able to start the match at Twickenham is something really exciting and I am looking forward to a number of my family coming down to watch me play.”
On the bench for the opposition, Oxford, will be former George Watson’s College captain MacGilchrist.
Having played for Scotland Under-19 and Under-20 as well as Watsonians, Tynedale and other clubs, the PhD student has a lot of experience.
He also came off the bench last year as Oxford won 33-15, so the second-row/back-row is looking forward to being part of the occasion again.
He said: “For people not involved with the two universities it is perhaps difficult to understand why the match is so big, but the history of the fixture and the calibre of players who have played in it in the past makes it so special.”
Cambridge, known as the Light Blues, rounded off their preparations for the match with a 29-8 defeat to Leicester Tigers last Monday night, but coaches Andy Key and Julian Salvi have seen them beat Bristol United and Coventry recently.
Thirteen of their 23-man squad have played in the fixture before, but back-row Richard Bartholomew is the only one to have ever tasted victory.
He returns for a fourth Varsity Match, seven years on from his last outing.
Meanwhile, Oxford prop Lewis Anderson stands on the verge of making Varsity Match history after being selected to play in his fifth game against Cambridge.
He will become only the third Dark Blue to play in five matches.
In the back-row they also include England Under-20s cap Gus Jones.
15 S Allen
14 I Cherezov
13 T May
12 F Gillies
11 G Smith
10 D Stevens
9 H Peck
1 W Briggs
2 T Pascoe
3 J Poulton
4 J Baker
5 R Hall
6 R Bartholomew
7 S Farmer
8 H Kelly
16 M Montgomery
17 O Exton
18 F Sanders
19 C O’Sullivan
20 D Dass
21 S Tullie
22 J Wylde
23 A Rees
15 J Taylor
14 E Doe
13 M Janney
12 A Macdonald
11 H Lamont
10 G Cullen
9 S Egerton
1 L Anderson
2 N Gardner
3 I Williams
4 F Taylor
5 T Reeson-Price
6 F Heathcote
7 G Messum
8 G Jones
16 J Wisson
17 J Scaife
18 G Western
19 G MacGilchrist
20 W Thomas
21 H de Berker
22 H Hughes
23 B Strang
SCOTSMAN TABLET AND IPHONE APPS