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My Life in Rugby: Ali Hepher – former Northampton and Bedford fly-half

Ali HepherIt was a funny one in terms of my 1st XV debut for Northampton. Having played a few games for the U19s, I’d left to go to university in Northumbria.

I had been gone for a few months when I got a call from Northampton. They had a first-team game coming up against Wakefield but had a lot of injuries and needed cover.

It ended up being a good game for me, I managed to kick a 45-metre drop-goal to tie the game and then we got a penalty with the last kick to win it.

Paul Grayson was out injured so the board and Ian McGeechan asked me if I’d be prepared to travel back on a regular basis if they paid my expenses.

I would travel down from Newcastle to Peterborough on Thursday for training and then a game at the weekend.

I was doing a three-year sandwich course at university so I got a job in Northampton in my third year and combined that with playing. That 1996/97 season was the year I really came though and managed to sneak a run of games.

Winning the European Cup in 2000 obviously goes down as one of the highlights of my career.

It was a long old season, we got to the Tetley Bitter Cup final, too, so we ended up playing as many games as was possible that year.

There were a lot of heavy legs but we managed to get over the line against Munster. We got our noses in front and although it was a bit ugly in the second half, we got there.

We had a barbecue at Tim Rodber’s house when we got back and that was when I got the call from Clive Woodward about going on the tour to South Africa. He probably thought I was not the most intelligent of guys when he was talking to me on the phone during those celebrations!

The majority of that tour squad went on win the World Cup in 2003. Unfortunately I was just not good enough to make it into that squad, we had some quality players at the time.

But just playing in those three midweek tour games in South Africa was a fantastic experience, they did not count as England caps but it was still great.

My Saints career ended in 2002 when I suffered an ACL injury. My six-month contract was up at the end of the season so I moved to Bedford as a player-coach.

I didn’t really like combining the two roles, it’s difficult to be both player and coach at a high level, but I still enjoyed it there.

I started coaching the Northampton academy in 2006 but after three years I thought it unlikely I’d push on through the club.

I wanted to become a Premiership coach and felt I had the rugby knowledge to do it, but I needed to learn how to get that across.

Rob Baxter gave me a call, and said I fitted the bill for what he wanted at Exeter. It is a fantastic club, and although it’s now a massive business, they still manage to keep hold of their ethos and it’s great to see the progress they have made and be a part of that.

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