It is not every day that a student rugby player get the chance to play alongside a British and Irish Lion at Twickenham – but Scot Fraser Gillies will be doing exactly that this afternoon.
Former age-grade cap Gillies, who led Edinburgh Academy to the Scottish Schools Cup in 2010, starts for Cambridge University against their old rivals from Oxford today at 2:30pm in the 134th Varsity Match.
Gillies will be at stand-off and although Cambridge have lost the encounter for the last five years he is feeling confident – perhaps due to the fact that Wales centre Jamie Roberts will be close by at inside centre.
Roberts, 29, has 74 Welsh caps to his name and has been on two Lions tours, but currently the Harlequins-bound man is studying for a part‑time Masters degree in medical science at Cambridge making him eligible for the big match.
“Last year I played in the No 12 jersey in the match, but this season I have been back playing in my usual position of stand-off and I think it is just as well given the competition I would have faced from Jamie for the inside centre spot,” Gillies, 23, joked.
“Seriously, though, to have a player of Jamie’s calibre and experience in the team has given everyone a big boost.
“He came into training soon after Wales were knocked out of the World Cup and his attitude from day one was spot on. He may have played all around the world, but he knows how much the Varsity Match means to us all and he has just been one of the lads and is keen to get involved.
“As a stand-off it is always great knowing that you have a good communicator at 12 outside you and Jamie is always talking. He has been involved in the last four or five matches with us and I know that I can give him the ball and he will make valuable yards for the team.”
Gillies, who had a spell in the Racing Metro Academy in France when he left school and then went to Exeter University, believes Cambridge have a good chance of wresting the trophy back from Oxford today – and not just because of Roberts.
He explained: “Things have been going well for us as a squad and there are quite a few experienced heads throughout the starting XV. Obviously Oxford are on a good run in the event, but it means so much to both universities and to win at Twickenham would be a dream – and we believe we can.”
There will be two fellow Scots in the Oxford ranks looking to stop Gillies. Andrew Grant, who was brought up in Aberdeen, and Graeme MacGilchrist from Edinburgh are listed in the opposition’s squad. Grant, 22, starts in the second-row and is getting his first taste of the Varsity Match while fellow forward MacGilchrist, 27, is involved for a third time and is on the bench.
For the former, who has played most of his rugby in Surrey, just making the squad is an achievement. “I tore my MCL [medial collateral ligament] in the first half of the first game of the season. After a long and intensive period of rehabilitation and hours spent on a bike I’m delighted to have made it,” Grant explained. It will be an honour and a privilege to play in such a historical match. I could not have imagined how significant an occasion it is.”
The match will be shown live on BBC 2 (kick-off 2pm) and is preceded by the women’s clash at 11:30am which is available to view on the BBC red button.