MY LIFE IN RUGBY
THE FORMER WASPS NO.8
In the early days of professionalism, I was officially the highest paid player in the world which still makes the lads chuckle today. Nigel Melville had signed me for £60k a year – a decent sum at the time - but I played only 19 minutes in the opening game of the season before picking up a bad injury and was out for the next nine months.
Sadly, I spent five of my 12 years at Wasps (19922003) on the sidelines after double knee and shoulder reconstruction surgery. It was hugely disappointing but I’d like to think that the boys thought I was a real asset to the team when I was fit and playing.
Wasps was like a second family, and still is. I couldn’t have asked for a better support network to help me through the dark times when I was injured and when my mother passed away.
Having grown up in Essex, Saracens was my local club and I nearly joined them. It was only because Geoff Strange, the lead scout at the time, phoned me literally every day after the England Schools U18 campaign for about three months that I ended up at Wasps.
I’ll never forget my first summer as a Wasps player in 1992. Rob Smith asked me to go to Saint-Jeande-Luz for a pre-season tour. Suddenly, as an 18year-old just out of school, I was in the company of Rob Andrew, Dean Ryan, Steve Bates, Fran Clough, Buster White and other Wasps legends of that era.
While I was at the club we won two League titles, two Tetley’s Bitter Cups and, most memorably, being part of the 2003-04 Heineken Cup season. It was an exciting time and things really took off when Warren Gatland and Shaun Edwards arrived with the best strength and conditioning team ever assembled, headed up by Craig White and Paul Stridgeon.
Gats tended to make a drastic change if the team hit a bad run of form, as one of our second rows, Joe Beardshaw, found out to his cost. Gats wanted to send out a message that failure was unacceptable and Joe was released from his contract. Another time when we weren’t playing well, I was called into the office and feared the worst.
Sure enough, Gats said he needed to make changes but that my position in the squad was safe only because I was essential to Simon Shaw’s mental well-being! Shawsy was one of the greatest forwards ever but needed someone to guide and advise him on and off the field. He owes me so much and I am lucky to have Shawsy as one of my best mates and godfather to my son, Charlie.
In terms of matches, I think the Tetley’s Bitter Cup Final in 1999 against Newcastle was up there with my best and most favourite games. We had a great squad that just kept improving and was a very close knit of players. From the age of 19, I was in and out of the England squad without actually getting capped but represented England at U18s, U21s, As, 7s and the Barbarians which was a great honour.
The Barbarians tour to Italy, with John Mitchell as captain, was a very enjoyable one with plenty of good rugby and laughs along the way. Baa-baas president, Micky SteeleBodger was that posh he used to leave his shoes outside his hotel room to be polished. Being a bit of a joker, I hid them – and Scott Hastings acquired the silver fox trophy that Micky had been given by one of the hosting clubs. He went ballistic and said we’d never play for the Baa-Baas. A week later we played against the Combined Services! Micky was and still is an incredible person.
On retiring, my connections with Wasps have remained strong – first through my role as Commercial Director and then as founder of Wasps Legends and the Wasps Charitable Foundation. We have raised the best part of a £1m for various good causes since it was set up in 2011. I am also CEO of Klas International.