When Danny Collins arrived at the University of Cambridge in late September, he hoped to play sociable rugby as a release from his PhD in Biology.
Now the 23-year-old prop forward finds himself on the bench for the 138th Varsity Match at Twickenham on Thursday, for what will be the biggest match of his life, “by quite a margin”.
“I’m ecstatic to be selected,” Danny tells fitz.cam.ac.uk.
“I came into the team late. I started playing rugby with Cambridge’s second team in mid-October.
“I got into the Blues team towards the end of November. It’s quite a late jump. I’m really excited, even to be on the bench.
“It’s hard to tell how much time I’ll get – the Varsity match is completely different to any other game – but hopefully I’ll have some role to play.”
Danny, a University College Cork graduate, arrived in Cambridge at the end of September to start his PhD in cell signalling on 1 October, so missing the pre-season tour.
“I was just keen to join a team and play a decent level and sociable rugby,” he adds.
“When I was called into the Blues squad, because they were short of props, I was very excited, but also a bit apprehensive.
“I found myself in a situation where I’m playing first team, which is good fun and a serious level.”
Should Danny come on at Twickenham, which has a capacity of 82,000, he is likely to pack down in the scrum in front of former Australia captain James Horwill and Flip van der Merwe, the former South Africa international.
The pair, both 34, are on the executive MBA course at the Judge Business School and boast 99 international caps between them, including wins at Twickenham.
Their presence in the second row increases expectation of Cambridge reclaiming the trophy Oxford won 12 months ago.
Danny says: “They’re great to have on the team. They bring that international spark. It’s great to hear them giving advice and tips. It’s a pretty big engine room – and having two internationals playing alongside each other is pretty cool.”
Danny may be from the Irish rugby heartland of Munster, but unlike his esteemed colleagues his reputation did not precede him.
“I didn’t play any representative rugby at any age level,” he adds.
“Back home I was playing with a small club called Dunmanway, from about the age of eight to 18, then I went to University College Cork and played with them for two and a half years, mainly under-20s.”
Life at Cambridge has been quite a baptism for Danny, who commutes from the home he shares with his girlfriend off Huntingdon Road to the Babraham Campus, and has to rush back for rugby training.
He adds: “It’s hard to juggle the time. It’s been quite a hectic six weeks. I’m sure after Varsity it will quieten down.
“The workload hasn’t gone full tilt yet, but it’s picking up. And my supervisors are very understanding.
“It’s good to blow off a bit of steam after a few experiments not going the right way!”
Danny is also looking forward to getting more involved in College life – including in the rugby team.
“The MCR’s very sociable and it’s a good set-up,” he said.
“I hope I’ll be able to mingle more once the rugby season’s over. At the moment, everything I’m doing is rugby or PhD-related.
“I’d like to be involved with Cuppers, whenever it’s on. It’s my first year, so I’m just waiting to hear!
“It’s a good atmosphere and I’m really enjoying being part of the Fitzwilliam community.”