It is a fantastic facility and there is no better place to hone your skills, learn and play in the best tournaments. It is probably some of my most enjoyable rugby when I look back now.
Chris Robshaw was my captain right from when I was 13 to when I was in the first team. He was a very similar player to what he is now – just an absolute work-horse machine.
He was a very good leader but I think he’d admit that he was a late developer – he wasn’t a flash player back then. We had a good team but it was not full of superstars like a few years later.
I achieved what I wanted to achieve in rugby – getting capped for my country and playing more than 100 games for Gloucester. And Gloucester would easily be the most enjoyable part of my career.
The moments that stand out for me are winning the LV= Cup with a group of players who I played with for a long time and the Munster game at Kingsholm. That was the best atmosphere I have ever seen at Kingsholm.
The atmosphere has not been replicated since that game, really. You had the Irish fans coming over and the streets were lined with Gloucester red – it was absolutely fantastic.
I got into rugby through my old man, Paul. He was an England Schoolboy and he took me to Bournemouth U8s. I just got a love for it and I was there until about U12s, before I went to Millfield.
I joined Gloucester from school as an 18-year-old and was thrown in the deep end. It was a steep learning curve but I relished it – it was an opportunity that not many people my age got.
I made my debut the same year I joined but I broke my wrist playing for the England U21s, which didn’t help my progression.
Everyone’s first game for a professional club is a special moment and it was an excellent atmosphere. The Shed was ever-present and loud and the hospitality for the opposition was great.
I developed really quickly through the Gloucester team to the England team. When you look back at that England team, I was quite young. When I came up, 30 was probably the average age and there weren’t many young guys coming through.
Hindsight is a great thing and when I look back on my career injuries are probably the thing that prevented me from going further and further. Maybe my body wasn’t built for it.
It has been documented that I have had my fair share of injuries but I had never had a knee injury before, so it was quite new to me, and it hit me that knees are a vital part of the game!
I needed to be careful about not coming back too soon, just to make sure I gave myself the best chance. It made me realise actually, this is not just about rugby – this is about life after rugby and having a healthy knee.
The support I’ve had has been brilliant and I can safely say I have a good knee that will allow me to play in the garden – and that is more important than playing.
Coaching is something I want to go into and I am doing some bits locally, but I am also doing a degree in leadership management.
It is going well but it is a shock – I haven’t been to university before so it’s a bit different to what I’m used to.
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