Auld enemies bring Scottish Varsity battle to London

The annual collision between Edinburgh and St Andrews takes place tonight – and it’s in Richmond for the first time. City A.M. asked two star alumni to explain why it’s an occasion not to be missed

RORY LAWSON
GLOUCESTER AND EX-EDINBURGH

TYRONE HOWE
EX-BRITISH LIONS AND ST ANDREWS

Q.WHAT MAKES THE SCOTTISH VARSITY MATCH SUCH A SPECIAL OCCASION?
A. While at Edinburgh University, club commitments meant I wasn’t ever lucky enough to play in the Varsity matches but I attended a number of them as a supporter of mates playing. The passion and intensity was right up there with the best that I’ve experienced.

A.The game is as close as it gets to a cup final in rugby. Competing is a given, performance is preferable but the result is everything. University rugby is serious but fun and the Varsity match is an occasion that binds you together for the rest of your lives.

Q.HOW DOES THE SCOTTISH VARSITY RIVALRY COMPARE TO THE OTHERS YOU'VE EXPERIENCED IN YOUR PLAYING CAREERS?
A.At Gloucester I’ve experienced the West Country derby against Bath and at Test level, the battle between Scotland and England for the Calcutta Cup. Like those, the Varsity match is special. Without fail, the atmosphere is electric and the fans really are a part of the game.

A. Having gone on to play in the Oxford v Cambridge Varsity match, I think the Scottish rivalry is a lot more civilised! Although my mind could be playing tricks on me as it was a long time ago – I’m sure we were just as competitive as the players are now.

Q.THE VARSITY MATCH IS BEING PLAYED IN LONDON THIS TIME. WHAT EFFECT DO YOU THINK THAT WILL HAVE?
A.Many alumni of both universities are now based in and around London, and the chance to go to a ‘Scottish’ ground and support their old team makes this a special event. For the players, playing under the lights down here is an experience they will treasure.

A.The main thing is that it will lift the profile of the game and give a huge number of people an opportunity to go along and support. I think it is a fantastic way of renewing and maintaining old friendships and that is exactly what rugby is all about.

Q.TELL US A PARTICULARLY FOND OR FUNNY STORY FROM YOUR DAYS IN THE VARSITY MATCH, OR AS PART OF YOUR UNIVERSITY TEAM.

A.At Edinburgh I played for a sevens team with pros Chris Cusiter and Colin Gregor, as well as hard-working London residents, Richard Ebdy, Keith Scott, Mark Best and Colin McAndrew, to name a few. We enjoyed a bit of success and the nights out were legendary!

A.I can remember sing-songs in the Students’ Union and a horrible drinking game called ‘Shoot the Boot’, where you had to drink a pint out of a smelly, dirty rugby boot that had been worn that afternoon. For a winger like me, that was a serious shock to the system.

Q.WHAT SHOULD WE EXPECT FROM YOUR ALMA MATER? WILL THEY WIN, AND WHICH PLAYERS SHOULD FANS LOOK OUT FOR?
A.Fireworks! This match is unique. It’s on neutral ground, so will have been on the minds of the players for a long time already. Everyone will be fizzing and from kick-off the players will want to get a shot on their opposite man to show what to expect for the rest of the game.

A.St Andrews will be hugely competitive. It is all about rising to the occasion and doing the basics really well. Under the spotlight and pressure, often someone really surprises you by playing an absolute blinder, but generally, Varsity matches are tight edgy affairs.

The Scottish Varsity match takes place at Richmond Athletic Ground, home of London Scottish, tonight. Kick-off 8pm, gates open 6pm, with food and drink and live music. Tickets are free, register at www.londonscottish.com