Varsity still vital says Wheeler

Legendary Lions hooker Peter Wheeler will be at Twickenham today to watch one of the few remaining throwbacks to his days as an amateur. [more]

Varsity still vital says Wheeler

Legendary Lions hooker Peter Wheeler will be at Twickenham today to watch one of the few remaining throwbacks to his days as an amateur.

Wheeler, who won seven Lions Test caps in 1977 and 1980, will be at the headquarters of English rugby for the annual Varsity Match between the universities of Oxford and Cambridge.

The 130th showing of the prestigious fixture is expected to draw a crowd of close to 30,000 as the unpaid ranks of the game enjoy a deserved stint in the spotlight.

Wheeler has strong links to Cambridge thanks to sons Ben and Joe who picked up a total of five Blues between them during their time at Grange Road.

The 41-times capped England international played his own rugby during the days of amateurism and he insists the historic encounter still has an important role to play despite the rise of professionalism.

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“The Varsity Match is definitely still important. It’s a unique occasion,” said Wheeler, who is now an executive director at Leicester Tigers.

“I shall go down and meet some mates there because it’s a rugby day out that’s different from anything else.

“People aren’t working on the day, they’re relaxed and I won’t be as worried about the result as I would be if Leicester were playing.

“Don’t get me wrong, though, I’m committed to Cambridge. I had two boys study there and that means a lot. Ben got two Blues and Joe got three and I spent a lot of Monday nights in the freezing cold at Grange Road watching them play.”

Cambridge, who head to Twickenham looking to avenge last season’s 21-10 defeat to the Dark Blues, include a former East Midlands team-mate of England centre Manu Tuilagi in Oakham School oldboy Oliver Wolfe but Oxford have even more substantial links to Wheeler’s Leicester.

Captain John Carter is a former Tigers, Sale and Doncaster back rower; hooker Govind Oliver was a member of the Tigers Academy and 19-year-old scrum-half Sam Egerton was previously part of the Tigers EPDG.

The fixture can boast a vast list of Lions tourists among its illustrious alumni, with the likes of Paul Ackford, Rob Andrew, Stuart Barnes, Tony Underwood, Mike Gibson, Gavin Hastings, Rob Wainwright, Davidd Bedell-Sivright, Ken Scotland and Richard Sharp all having graced the game.

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