The 139-year rugby rivalry between Cambridge University and Oxford University is steeped in traditions. Former Cambridge captain Ross Blake is helping to bring one of them back.
Blake and Joe Roff, who won the 1999 World Cup with Australia, will act as assistant referees in today’s 130th Varsity Match at Twickenham Stadium in London as organizers renew a custom of ex-captains helping the match official. Professionals took over after the 1997 game.
“These sort of traditions are important to that game,” Blake, a metals trader at Barclays Capital in London, said in a telephone interview. “This game has historical significance to some people and it’s good they go back.”
Blake, 31, was part of two victorious Cambridge teams, including 2007 when he led the Light Blues to a 22-16 win. He’ll be joined as assistant referee by Roff, his Oxford counterpart four years ago, whom he credits with helping revive the tradition.
“By all accounts, he was the one pushing for the old captains to come back,” Blake said. “This year was deemed the right time to try something different. They asked Joe and I was lucky to be captain against him.”
Blake and Roff will wear their old university caps and blazers for today’s match, which is sponsored by brokerage firm Nomura Holdings Inc. They’ll also get a brief course on their job from England’s Rugby Football Union before working with match referee Dave Pearson.
The sport went professional in the mid-1990s, and the RFU rather than the two teams started appointing the officials. The RFU named the referee this year and the former captains were drafted back.
“We’re not qualified referees, but we’ll try to add any help we can,” said Blake, who has been with Barclays since 2008.
Cambridge leads the all-time series 61 to 54 with 14 draws, though Oxford has taken two of the past three matches, including last year’s 21-10 triumph. Cambridge has won seven of its 13 games this season, while Oxford has four wins in 10.
Blake originally planned to watch from the Twickenham stands, but will now be a bit closer to the action. He’s likely to pay extra attention to the player in the No. 9 shirt for the Light Blues, his brother Don.
“That’s added interest in the game,” he said. “He’s worked hard all season and is lucky enough to start. Hopefully he comes away with a win.”