20 Questions: Lee Mears – retired Bath hooker

 Lee MearsWhen were you advised to quit playing?

On 30 January when the surgeon had all the paperwork in front of him and said I’d be taking my life in my hands by playing on. I’d been heart-tested for about six weeks.

Your first reaction?

It was a bombshell. As you get older you know you’ll have to retire one day, but to be given closure like that, it was like, ‘Crikey, no more running out at the Rec!’

You’re 33, feel you’ve had a good innings?

Definitely. I’ve played 260-odd clubs games, 42 Tests for England and represented the Lions, so I’ve ticked most of the boxes.

You were also on that legendary England Schools tour to Australia in 1997?

That’s right, with Jonny Wilkinson, Mike Tindall, Iain Balshaw, Steve Borthwick and Andy Sheridan. It was a phenomenal tour and they were great memories.

Best memories with Bath?

Winning the European Challenge Cup in 2008 and there were four consecutive Premiership semi-finals. Beating Gloucester in the rain at the Rec also stands out.

And England?

My first cap against Samoa in 2005, then beating Ireland in the ‘Cipriani match’ at Twickenham in 2008. Playing at Croke Park, Dublin, was another great occasion.

Would playing for the Lions in 2009 be tops?

It’s the pinnacle. Having my name read out for the Lions team was fantastic. To say you’ve been a Lion and to start that first Test in Durban was crazy.

Best Bath players played with?

So many! You’ve got the understated ones like Joe Maddock and Michael Claassens, and then there were superstars like Jerry Guscott and Ieuan Evans.

Just caught the end of Jerry’s career, did you?

Yes, and he gave me abuse. Ahead of my first game I got on the bus all proud and nervous, but as I walked to the back Jerry looked up and shouted, ‘Jeez, are we taking the ball boys to away games now?’ Thanks Jerry!

Teenage rugby idol?

James Dalton, the South Africa hooker. I got stick for being small and was told I wasn’t big enough, but he was the archetypal small hooker – great skill and really powerful. I had his picture on my wall and he inspired me.

Other sports played?

I had a go at football and cricket at school, but golf’s my game. If I could be another sportsman it would be Rory McIlroy or Lee Westwood, guys who play with a smile on their face.

Hobbies?

I’m doing a bit of flying near Kemble and am training for my pilot’s license. You can get too focussed on rugby at times so it’s nice to do something different.

Enjoy travelling?

Love it. I go to Portugal most summers for the weather, food and golf and enjoy jetting away. I’ve been to the Maldives, Mauritius, Barbados and St Lucia, plus all the rugby trips.

Favourite food?

A well-cooked steak with some nice veg.

Pet hates?

Miserable people. I always try to look at the positive things in life. In rugby, I hate it when poor weather affects the game. It makes it boring to watch.

Future plans?

I’ve got the coffee shop in Bath, Jika Jika, which I own with Matt Stevens. We’ve just opened a second which is going well and I’ve got some property. Hopefully, I’ve prepared pretty well.

Graham Rowntree reckons you’ll make a fine coach?

I get on well with Graham and respect him highly, so it was fantastic to hear those words and coaching is something I’m interested in.

Do you have the aptitude?

You never know but I’ve got my Level 3 qualification and I’ve been working at it as another string to my bow. I’ve always been someone who helps younger players.

Will you always support Bath?

Of course, it’s home. I want to see the stadium built and see the team get back to the glory days. I’ll help in any way I can and support them.

Bath’s future prospects?

Definitely on the up. If you see the hard work that’s going in behind the scenes and the foundations they’re putting in place, you can see where the club’s going.

 

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