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Australasian feel to varsity match

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Sportal.co.nz     06 Dec 2008     Gettys Images

Vickerman retired from Test rugby this year after helping Australia finish second in the Tri Nations while Oliver hung up his international boots following the All Blacks' World Cup quarter-final defeat by France 14 months ago.

The pair shared a trans-Tasman rivalry at Test and Rebel Sport Super Rugby level for the best part of seven years and on Thursday they will renew acquaintances in one of the game's oldest fixtures.

Vickerman is only 29 and would have still been involved with the Wallabies had he not called a day on his Test career after 54 caps in pursuit of a 'world-class education' and a degree in land economy at Hughes Hall, Cambridge.

Vickerman's last Test for Australia was a 27-15 victory over South Africa in August - but he puts no stock in the notion playing for Cambridge is a step down, just a giant stride into a new environment and a new challenge.

"Everyone plays rugby because they enjoy it. Being able to be part of a side and contribute is what makes the game so great," Vickerman said after Friday's traditional team announcement ceremony.

"It is no different here. It is a team game and you work towards that common goal."

Vickerman completed a finance degree at RMIT University in Melbourne during his professional career but as that drew to a close he began hankering for the chance to study full-time.

"It was always in the back of my mind to study and be a full-time student," said Vickerman, who missed Australia's 18-11 win over the Barbarians because he had an essay to finish.

"As the years went by in the professional environment, the drive to do it got a little bit more and a little bit more. Near the end of my previous degree I thought it would be a good opportunity to shift my focus from full-time sport and get a world-class education at the same time.

"I spoke to a lot of guys. [Former Australia star] Joe Roff went to Oxford. I had a few friends who went to Cambridge. They were all really helpful.

"They swore by the fact it was a great experience. They got a lot out of it and it has been no different for me so far.

"The guys have all made me feel welcome. I am still getting the routines of going to classes in the day and then studying and training in the evening but I am really enjoying it."

Cambridge has struggled this season and hs been without influential former professional No.10 Ross Broadfoot, whose ankle is in plaster.

The Oxford team includes Oliver and former Canada flanker Stan McKeen but also inexperienced faces like freshman winger Sean Morris and 19-year-old first five-eighth Ross Swanson.

Dark Blues captain Peter Clarke said: "Leaders like these guys will bring invaluable experience, especially for our younger players."

Cambridge won last year's clash 22-16 and leads the series 60-52 with 14 draws.