How Blue can you get?

TCS 30 October 2009

TCS talks to Australian rugby legend and Blues Captain Dan Vickerman

Meeting Dan Vickerman is a daunting experience. He is famous: Over fifty caps for Australia, 119 kilos and six foot eight, the former Wallabies vice-captain and current Blues captain towers over this TCS reporter.I’m meeting a superstar but he is charming, laid back and wryly funny. He looks tired and worries about his next supervision. He has a right to be tired, a new baby of one month, managing the rugby club and a degree to boot.

Born in South Africa in 1979, Vickerman came to prominence after moving to Australia where he played for ACT Brumbies and the New South Wales Waratahs. In 2002 he won his first cap for the Wallabies against France in Sydney, continuing to represent the Wallabies until last year in Durban, South Africa. After leaving professional rugby in Australia, Vickerman moved to Cambridge at the beginning of last year to read Land Economy at Hughes Hall, winning his Blue in last year’s close run Varsity match and taking over as captain at the end of last season.

Talking to other players in the squad it is hard to find anyone with a bad word to say about Vickerman.The training has improved, there is a good atmosphere in the club and confidence is riding high for this year’s Varsity match.It seems that playing with someone with experience at the highest level is having a positive effect on the rest of the squad.

After playing at such a high level in Australia I wondered what it was that made Vickerman want to come to Cambridge. He tells me: ‘I think I’ve always wanted to pursue an academic career. I completed a degree while playing in Australia, so putting in an application here and getting in was really too good an opportunity to turn down.And it’s been fantastic and very challenging, after a year of going through the process of having exams you can see why it’s such a prestigious place and held in such high regard academically. Having supervisions and enjoying student life has certainly been very enjoyable.’ Asked about his course he says: ‘Yeah it’s good, you know, I’d like to get into a career in property whenever it is I eventually grow up and the land economy course is certainly helping me get more hands on experience with that.  So it’s been brilliant really. Obviously there is a fair workload that goes along with land economy, there really is, but you’ve got to get the work done.  It’s really a case of balancing; work is obviously a priority and you’ve got to get stuck into it but its really enjoyable combining it with the rugby. ‘

So what about the Rugby?The Blues are looking to avenge last year’s Varsity loss at Twickenham yet after a strong start to the season, consecutive losses to Northampton Saints and Saracens may have sapped some confidence from the side.  I asked what the atmosphere was like at the club.  ‘The atmosphere is fantastic. The guys are great; a good mix of guys from all walks of life so it’s a pretty amazing group of people to play rugby with. We’re not thinking too much about  last season, I guess we’re just focussing on this year but we’ve certainly got a strong team and there have been a lot of younger guys come in this year.There are also some of the guys who are playing for their third season so there is a good balance in the squad.We train pretty hard so things are really coming together.

There has also been a lot of talk about the interest that Northampton Saints have shown in signing Vickerman. Asked about this the lock seems a little coy ‘Well yeah they did show a little bit of interest but I’ve got another year to go on my degree and am fully committed to the University ‘ But surely he misses playing at that level though ‘Well yeah I was very fortunate throughout my career to be playing with some of the top guys and its always one of those things; you watch some of the guys that you played with in the past still performing at that level and you do miss it a bit but this is a new challenge and I’m enjoying my studies and enjoying being part of Cambridge life I look more with fond memories than anything else.’

Okay so the Saints aren’t stealing him before Varsity, what about International duty? How does Vickerman rate his chances of returning to play for the Wallabies? He is unconvinced: ‘I mean I’m studying now and you are out of the professional game for three years and I think it’s a case of out of sight out of mind. So I don’t know and it’s not something I’m really thinking about at the moment, I’m just focusing on university for now.’

Focussing on university: What are our chances in this year’s Varsity match? ‘Well we’ve still got a few games to play before that and I think if we can grow each week we’re going to put ourselves in the strongest possible position going into the Varsity match.At the end of the day its one match and who can say what’s going to happen in those eighty minutes but I think if we cut out the errors and continue to improve we’re got a pretty decent chance.’

As he grins and ambles off for a supervision in the Law Faculty I realise I have been charmed by Vickerman, who no longer seems quite the imposing megastar I had imagined. However try as I might I still find it difficult to imagine this giant man receiving a proper dressing-down from a supervisor.