Ex-Springbok Flip van der MerweJournal La Montagne/Youtube

Cambridge’s chances of regaining the rugby Varsity Match crown have just been given a huge boost: two former international players are set to join the University this Autumn.

Former Australian captain James Horwill and South African second-rower Flip van der Merwe, both of whom are 34 years of age, will study for the Executive MBA at Queens’ College. The two-year-long course, run by the Judge Business School, makes the pair eligible to represent both the Cambridge University Rugby Union Club (CURUFC) and Queens’ College in the sport.

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Their arrival is a massive coup for CURUFC, who lost last year’s Varsity Match to Oxford at Twickenham by a score of 38-16. 

Horwill, perhaps the better known of the pair, has already confirmed his desire to be involved in this year’s Varsity campaign. A bruising second rower known for his physical style and tenacious leadership, he played 62 Tests for Australia and captained his country at the 2011 Rugby World Cup. Hailing from Brisbane, he also captained the Queensland Reds in the Southern Hemisphere’s Super Rugby competition, leading them to their first and only title in 2011. He is, however, no stranger to England, having spent four seasons as a regular starter at Harlequins before retiring from the professional game in April. 

He will likely be joined in the Cambridge line-out by none other than van der Merwe. Also a second-rower, van der Merwe was capped 37 times for South Africa between 2010 and 2015. Starting his career with the Free State Cheetahs, he won a Super Rugby title with the Bulls in 2010 before moving to France’s Top 14 league, where he won the 2017 championship with Clermont prior to retiring at the end of last season. Van der Merwe is also known for his physicality, having once been suspended for four weeks for pushing a referee.


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Horwill and van der Merwe would be the latest in a long string of high profile recruits to grace Cambridge rugby. The Wales and British and Irish Lions international Jamie Roberts, also a qualified doctor, played for the Light Blues’ in 2015 while completing an MPhil in Medical Science at Queens’. Other professional stars to have donned the Light Blue in the last decade include Charlie Amesbury (Bristol Bears), Nick Koster (Bristol Bears), Ollie Phillips (former England 7s captain), and the late Dan Vickerman (Wallabies). Interestingly, all except Vickerman were, like Horwill and van der Merwe, also members of Queens’ College.

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