Big brother Finn may be hogging the headlines with a move to Racing’92 but the French Top 14 outfit originally copied their colours from Cambridge University and today the spotlight will be on Archie Russell who turns out for the lights blues in the 136th Varsity Match at Twickenham.
An outside centre, Archie is better built than his stand-off sibling and a little more direct on the field, with a strong fend and a decent turn of pace. He was in the Scotland academy system but dropped out and has taken a year out of his life to gain a masters in Technology Policy at St Edmunds, so how has be found student life in Cambridge?
“I just arrived in September and it’s been awesome so far,” he says with some enthusiasm. “I didn’t really know what to expect coming down. It has a big reputation and I didn’t quite know how it would be, but it has been awesome since I got here. Everyone is very welcoming and I was lucky I guess.
“When I came down I went away to South Africa on a pre-season tour. That was an opportunity to meet all the boys and get well acquainted with the team. That was good and since then we have just been building towards this game.
“It’s quite surreal because at the start of the year you already know that you are in the cup final, rather than having to play games to get there. It’s different to playing your normal season, league game after league game and trying to make the play-offs…you already know what you are aiming towards. It’s a bit different but it’s really good.
“From the Steele-Bodgers game or so, the last ten days or so, it’s been really building up, ramping up. There are so many traditions and speeches and dinners, it’s great that everyone gets involved in it. There are so many ex-blues that come back and share their wisdom. You get a real feeling that everyone is behind you. You understand how much it means to people who have been to Cambridge before. It’s good.”
Russell will hope to get his hands on the ball in a little space because the Scot has some useful players outside him. Charlie Amesbury used to play for England Sevens, and now leads the light blues from full-back, as did one-time IRB 7’s player of the year winger, Ollie Philips, who, at the age of 34, is 12 years Russell’s senior.
Archie actually starts alongside another Scot in teenager Jake Hennessey who played for the national U19s team and captained Harlequins to the U18s title. Harlequins academy offered him a place but he wanted the safety net of a degree in his back pocket.
Another Scot, breakaway Buchan Richardson, son of Charlie and nephew of former Scotland lock Jeremy Richardson, starts in the back row of the Cambridge scrum.
Meanwhile, prop forward Nick Briggs will set a new record for Varisty match appearances – this his seventh, having won his first blue way back in 2011.
Oxford University are captained by Irish stand-off Conor Kearns and they field Canadian international Dan Moor alongside former Wasps midfielder Dominic Waldouck.
Although it’s not always easy to compare, Russell reckons that the standard of the Varsity teams is comparable to Scotland’s BT Premiership.
After a difficult season where injuries sidelined most of the Cambridge forward pack, the light blues have come good when it mattered most, running in nine tries against the Steele-Bodgers in what was the 70th anniversary of that fixture, Russell too modest to mention that he got on the scoreboard.
“I don’t know if we are favourites, but we definitely have confidence,” says Russell, and it seems to be a family trait. “It was really important to win last year.
“We were struggling in the middle of the season but, in the last two games, we had our full team out and we really started to come good. In the Steele-Bodgers game we blew them away, so it’s building quite nicely to be honest.
“Obviously everyone is talking about it being such a big game but I think it’s important to stay real chilled, relax. I just want to get my hands on the ball and hopefully I’ll get a few breaks.”