It was great to be down in the Premiership and Sale was possibly the best three years I had in my career.
We had Charlie Hodgson coming through, Mark Cueto, Bryan Redpath – and Jason Robinson is probably at the top of the list. We played some awesome rugby and had a great time off the pitch.
But the key driver was basically my coach, Steve Diamond. In the February of my contract running out he went to Saracens as the forwards coach and I had a really good relationship with him. I also felt at the time that it would be a good move for my career.
I had a good couple of years at Saracens and the forward pack was probably the best I played with in my career. We were just a bit unlucky with some injuries but we certainly did OK.
I got a bad neck injury in 2007 – I came back but I sort of felt, naturally, that I wasn’t the same. I don’t regret retiring at all but in my last year at Saracens I wasn’t quite putting my head in where I would normally.
I went to senior school at Merchiston Castle and I was pretty average. I only played for the first XV for one year but I got in the Scottish Schools team and played against Ben Kay for England. He was about 18 stone and I was 13, so I piled on a bit of weight after that. I was incredibly skinny.
I went to university and still wasn’t thinking, ‘I can make a career out of this’. In my second year of uni the World Cup happened and the game went professional and that was pretty much it for me. I just couldn’t wait to start playing.
Let’s be honest – it was university so it was a lot of drinking horrendous drinks anyway. I studied land economy at Aberdeen, a classic rugby degree – Gavin Hastings and Rob Andrew had done it.
I remember vividly my first game as a professional, at Neath. I came off the pitch and thought, ‘this is what I want to do’. It was great to be part of that.
We weren’t a particularly great team but it was great to go straight from uni to be playing Brive away and playing at The Rec.
But we were in a Scottish/Welsh league, which meant every other week I had to spend nine hours on a bus to South Wales. There are only so many things you can read or watch.
And I think it is safe to say that Scottish rugby was a little bit slower to react to professional rugby than a lot of other countries.
In some respects I was unlucky in international terms. One of the positions at Scotland that was very strong all through my career was second row.
Scott Murray and Stuart Grimes deserved to win all the caps that they did.
Scott played for the Lions and we were pretty much the same age – and he never got injured. For me he was the best lineout forward in international rugby for a couple of years.
I had lots of periods where I just loved it. There were disappointments with injuries but the highlights would’ve been playing in the Premiership, getting my cap and the time I had at Sale, when we were part of a really good side that finished second in the league and won a European trophy.
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