We were just as amateur as the other teams – I was still a policeman – but back then we were bigger, faster and stronger. People came to training already well-conditioned so we could then just work on our skills and because we took the game very seriously, it translated into us being professionals.
I originally went out to New Zealand in March 1984 for a six-month stint after finishing school in Blackheath.
I was playing for Oriental Rongotai and labouring in the day. After that six months the All Blacks went away on tour taking six Wellington provincial players with them and I was selected to play in their place, but once they came back I managed to stay in the team by switching to outside centre.
I went back to England with the intention of a quick return but I needed the help of the club’s chair- man Don Bond who was also the top civil servant in charge of immigration in New Zealand, which was a handy coincidence!
The following year I joined the police force but on the pitch I dislocated my ankle and broke my fibula. I spent the summer convalescing and I managed to get fit for the start of the 1986 season.
I took the whole year to get up to speed and got picked for the All Blacks tour to France but I didn’t get on and had to wait to win my first cap until the first game of the 1987 World Cup against Italy.
That first game was a pretty low-key affair – with Eden Park only selling 20,000 tickets in a 50,000 seater stadium. But the interest grew and by the time we got to the semi-finals they were all sell outs.
Then afterwards we found out that the final was beamed to over three hundred million people and that was a lot for 1987.
It wasn’t weird for me to represent New Zealand even though I was born and bred in Lewisham in London. To me it was normal because I had immersed myself in New Zealand culture. I trained in the evenings with my club and province and played on Saturdays, it all become a routine.
I always wanted to get better and I felt that every time I went up a level, the transition was actually easier because I was surrounded by better players.
But I chose to come back to England at the start of the 90s as all my family were over here and I was a little homesick, as well as skint! On top of that Leeds rugby league offered me a five-year contract and a big signing-on fee which was too good to be true given my circumstances at the time.
The first few months went well but then I got a neck injury and returned too quickly. After that I never really got going again. I did play one season with the London Crusaders which was great fun but when rugby union went professional I decided not to take up an offer I had from Harlequins.
I was 30 and my mother had always asked me when I was going to get a job in the real world, so I moved into teaching and I am now headmaster at Colfe’s Prep School in London.
I kept on playing semi-professionally with Blackheath and in 1998 I played for the Ireland ‘A’ team against Scotland in Donnybrook which made my Irish grandmother very proud.
Comments are closed on this article.