MY LIFE IN RUGBY
Ican’t remember much about the one and only time I won at Twickenham in 2004 as I was suffering from pneumonia.
I felt dreadful, but Devon’s doctor gave me an injection to get me through the match and, somehow, I managed to play the full 80 minutes in our first County Championship win for nearly 50 years, against Gloucestershire.
After the game I went straight to the team coach and slept for what seemed like hours. I think it took me about two months to finally shake off the effects of what I’d put my body through.
My back-row colleague at Plymouth, Chris Lowrie, got to lift the Cup that day – an honour that narrowly escaped me when I led Albion to the final of the Powergen Shield, a year later at Twickenham.
We had beaten a strong Bristol team in the semifinal to set up a date with Bedford. It was a close game throughout and, with seconds left, we trailed by a single point. It was all or nothing and we launched an attack from deep and very nearly snatched it at the death only for Nigel Cane to drop the ball over the line. It was a long bus journey home.
While never the most skilful of players, I prided myself on my work-rate around the park, and preferred to lead by example rather than through any rousing speeches. There were other people better suited to that role in our changing room. What I did well was the ugly stuff that no-one else particularly wanted to do, like hit rucks.
To be fair, I was happy to play the unsung role as there were more skilful players who deserved the limelight. I knew my place in the team and tried to fulfil that as best I could. We were blessed in the back-row department being able to call upon players like Martin Schusterman, Dan WardSmith and Alfie Tooala, and I think I was quite lucky to hold on in there for as long as I did.
I loved the confrontational side of rugby – although I’m not so sure I’d say the same nowadays given the size of the players – and had some good battles over the years, notably with Joe El Abd and Alfie when he was with Rotherham and Orrell.
When big teams like Harlequins dropped down, it was always a challenge I embraced. I don’t think I laid a hand on Andrew Mehrtens though; he was a class act especially at that level.
Playing for Albion was obviously a great step up from my local club Barnstaple and I managed to play a fair amount of rugby from thereon in. Between 2000 and 2001, we went on a record unbeaten 41-game run, which finally came to an end up at Wharfedale, on our way to achieving back-to-back promotions up to what is now the Championship.
There was a real desire amongst everyone to play at as high a level as possible and we spurred each other on, even winning when not playing particularly well.
In 2007 I suffered a bad neck injury trying to tackle my old house-mate, Alan Paver, in a game down at Penzance. I damaged one of the discs and had trouble with my nerves on the right-hand side of my body and lost quite a lot of muscle.
After a year out, I did manage to get back on the Plymouth bench a few times but that was effectively it for me as a player and I turned my attention to coaching. Anyway, young players like Mike Denbee and Rory WattsJones were coming through in the back-row and deserved a crack.
After spells at Plymouth, my old club Barnstaple and then Chippenham, I’m now coaching at Yatton RFC alongside Rob Thirlby. - as told to Jon Newcombe