Jamie Roberts and Cambridge Rugby

Exciting times for Cambridge University Rugby Union: enormous and enormously potent Wales and Harlequins and British and Irish Lions centre Dr. Jamie Roberts is going to be studying at the university for a while. And studying at the university also means playing rugby at the university.

Roberts is not the first rugby international to play for Cambridge. Rob Andrew, England fly-half, was capped for England while still turning out for the University, and Mike Gibson, the great Irish centre, represented the British Lions (as they were then known) while studying law. And there have been many others.

The connection between sporting prowess and academic attainment is not an obvious one, but over the years the university has been a centre of sporting excellence in any number of sports. This is no doubt in part owing to the nineteenth century emphasis on sport, and on team sport in particular, in the curriculum of its public schools. Rugby union especially, and to a lesser extent cricket, were dominated by public schoolboys down to the second half of the twentieth century (rugby union arguably still so, in England at any rate); and since the public schools also supplied a majority of undergraduates at Cambridge and Oxford, there was bound to be some overlap.

There is no doubt that at some points in the past the university has favoured applicants with conspicous sporting backgrounds (it used to be the perception that the slightly arcane degree of land economy existed solely as a holding zone for rowers and rugby players). There is equally no doubt that now this is not the case. Cambridge takes its reputation as a centre of academic excellence very seriously. Jamie Roberts is already qualified as a medical doctor, and will be furthering his professional qualifications while in Cambridge. If he adds a bit of beef to the Cambridge midfield in the run-up to the Varsity match (which Cambridge have lost the last five years consecutively), then no harm done.