Tony Abbott at Oxford: fighter, networker, Thatcherite

Twenty-two months in England transformed the beer-swilling, rugby song-singing chameleon – and gave him a new hero
Andy Beckett
The Guardian

In the Oxford university rugby team in the autumn of 1981, there was a loosehead prop with a mixed reputation.

"He was a good scrummager," says Phil Crowe, the captain at the time. "He could scrounge on the ground for the ball. He did all the technical things pretty well."

In confrontations, he never took a backward step. Sometimes he took a forward one: if an opposing player was giving him a hard time, and the referee wasn't looking, "He was a bit of a pugilist. He had a quick right jab."

But he had his limitations. "Around the field, he wasn't all that flash. He was never going to be a sprinter."

Heavy in the shoulders and 14 or 15 stone, depending on how much training he had been doing and how much beer he had been drinking, he was an awkward fit in an Oxford side that based its game on speed and mobility.

In December 1981, just before the all-important annual Varsity Match against Cambridge, participation in which earned a Blue, he was dropped. "He was very emotional," remembers an Oxford friend. He never played rugby for the Oxford first team again.

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