NICK Gardner will complete the transition from Iffley Road ball boy to Varsity Match hooker when he runs out for Oxford University at Twickenham today (Dec 6).
The 22-year-old, from Head-ington, grew up watching the Dark Blues and said it was “amazing” to be taking on Cambridge in the showpiece clash.
Gardner is also a former Mag-dalen College School, Oxford, pupil and has played for Oxford Harlequins since a youngster.
“I grew up being one of the ball boys down at Iffley Road and watching the Blues,” he said.
“It was an amazing experience to be called up and get the personal letter from the captain as well.
“I never really thought I would get this far.
“I remember seeing them play against Australia in 2001 and thinking they are all superstars. It was very inspiring.”
Gardner added: “There are a lot of good players at Oxford. There is always someone fighting for your place. This whole term I have worked really hard to make it.”
Gardner could end up facing another former MCS boy today, as Nick Marshall is a replacement prop for Cambridge.
And like Gardner, 20-year-old Marshall is an Oxford Harlequins product.
“Nick was two years below me at school, so we never really played together,” said Gardner.
“It will be interesting to come up against him if he comes on. It will be quite a fierce rivalry.
“I know our old rugby coach from Magdalen College School, Matt Penton, is coming to watch.”
Gardner and Marshall will be the second MCS pair to oppose each other in the Varsity Match.
In 1988, Rupert Vessey and James Foster played for Oxford and Cambridge respectively.
MCS old boys Nigel Starmer-Smith and Mike Simmie both played for Oxford in 1965 and 1966.
Gardner’s local links have increased now he is training to be a biology teacher at Oxford Univer-sity.
This term he has been placed at King Alfred’s Academy, Wantage, where he has also been coaching their under 15 team.
l Varsity Match preview: Page 46