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My Life in Rugby: Dan Hipkiss – former England, Bath and Leicester centre

Dan HipkissScoring the winning try for Leicester in the 2010 Premiership final is something I will never forget – you just see that reaction of everyone in the crowd.

For weeks and months afterwards though, I asked myself, “did I really get that ball down?”

I can see it now – squeezing past two defenders and touching down. I don’t think I will ever get anything comparable to that in my life.

My dad played rugby for England schoolboys. He took me down to Diss, a local club in Norfolk, when I was five and I played there for ten years.

It was all pretty exciting – I remember on Saturday nights I used to lay out my kit ready for the morning.

My dad was into it and we used to watch all the Five Nations games. It was all through him really.

I actually went to a non-rugby playing school – it was mainly football. When I was 13 I gave up rugby to play football for a year, but I soon realised I was never going to be great at it.

It almost never happened for me. I had a London and South East trial and I didn’t play well, but my dad had a chat with me and said I just need one good game. He did it in a nice way and never really pushed me.

Being part of that Leicester team was brilliant – I was playing with guys I had played my schoolboy rugby and all my U19 rugby with. We all loved the club and loved playing for it.

It was amazing to be named players’ player of the year in 2007 because it had been a tough few years until that point. I had played maybe five or six games up to 2004, over three or four years.

Finally I got a bit of a run in the team and I played just over 30 games. It is very easy when you are in the team and the team is going well. As a coach Paddy Howard was brilliant and really supported me.

The experience of playing for England is pretty similar – it is just amplified ten times. You go through the same emotions, but much more so.

I felt confident going into that set-up for the 2007 World Cup. Lots of people play well and then get injured when they get picked for England, but everything went right for me – I couldn’t have been happier.

People didn’t really expect us to get anywhere. But your expectations do change – we France in the semi-final and started to believe. We were close, very close against South Africa in the final. But I don’t think we can have any regrets.

Moving to Bath was a good opportunity to try something new. I was injured and struggling to get into the Leicester team. It was also the emergence of Manu Tuilagi. You have got to be selfless and think “this is the next generation of Leicester”.

Players like Manu are the blueprint of how players are going to be – like George North. It will probably go down a similar route to the NFL, where they have amazing athletes but career spans will decrease.

Ending my career with my shoulder was not what I wanted but it was taken out my hands which was probably a good thing.

The best bit about my career is the people I have met along the way and the experiences I have shared. That will be what stays with me.

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