MY LIFE IN RUGBY
Iexperienced some memorable wins as a player – beating Bath at home while at London Scottish, for example – but the big one that got away still rankles with me to this day.
At Otley, we had a confrontational pack who never took a backward step and we looked set to lower the colours of a star-studded Harlequins side after they had been relegated to National One.
Protecting a slender lead deep into injury time, I decided to change our defensive alignment from drift to man-on-man. As the ball came out, I jackknifed back on Andrew Mehrtens but my inside centre was still drifting onto Will Greenwood and Mel Deane went through for the winning score.
It was the second time I’d faced Mehrtens, the first having been for the North of England against the NZ Barbarians when the Sale lads were pulled out at the eleventh hour and Rotherham and Wakefield came to the rescue.
Apart from taking responsibility for the Quins near-miss, the only other regret I have from my career is not working harder on my goal-kicking when I was younger. Yes, I broke lots of records while I was at Otley but earlier on I was hit-and-miss, which might have cost me a shot at the big time – not that Leicester was a bad place to start my senior playing days.
I’d caught the eye of Leicester DoR Tony Russ as an England schoolboy and combined playing with my studies at Birmingham University. After playing a season for the U21s, I made my senior debut in Ireland, aged 19 or 20. Thankfully, I had Dean Richards to look after me.
Towards the end of my University days my degree was starting to suffer a little bit with all the travelling back and forth to Leicester and to games with England Students, the North and Yorkshire U20s. So, for the last couple of months of the season I joined Moseley as it was on the doorstep.
Rugby had turned professional by the time my degree had finished and I ended up at Rotherham under Geoff Wappett, my old coach at Bradford Grammar. Guy Easterby and I formed a good halfback partnership and I felt that it was at Clifton Lane, during that first spell, that I played my best rugby.
London Scottish came in for the pair of us but just before Christmas, Scottish signed Springbok No.10 Jannie de Beer. I was a bit disappointed about that but I got my head down and played quite a bit at full-back – probably the slowest 15 in the Premiership, though!
Things started to deteriorate when the financial problems set in and that sorry episode left a bitter taste in the mouth. For me, as far as full-time rugby went, that was it.
Combining my day job in financial recruitment with playing, I re-joined Rotherham. I’ll never forget the two-legged promotion play-off against Bedford in 1999/2000. We’d won the league by some distance by the time we played Henley in our final fixture, and we played like drains in front of a crowd that included the Bedford players.
Maybe that no-show lulled them into a false sense of security, but we took a 20-point lead into the second leg down at their place after winning 40-20 at home, before desperately hanging on to win 40-34 on aggregate. Celebrating after losing a match was surreal.
For the first half of that Premiership season we gave a good account of ourselves, beating London Irish and Saracens and pushing Gloucester, Bristol and Leicester close, but once the inevitability of relegation sunk in, the squad started to fracture which was a disappointing end to four brilliant years.
I joined Otley and had some great times at Cross Green. To finish fifth in consecutive seasons in National One was a great achievement for such a small community-based club.