I was 30 and planning on just easing into retirement after a season with Limerick in 1999/2000.
Instead Joel Stransky, who was at Leicester at the time, convinced Dean Richards that he should look for a South African when Will Greenwood left, so he contacted me. I didn’t think I was up to it, but my wife really wanted me to give it a go, and we took quite a gamble by going over on a one-year deal.
I had to wonder what I’d let myself in for when I arrived at my first training session. Andy Goode and Austin Healey were battling for the fly-half jersey and during training they got into a massive fight for a ball.
There were balls everywhere but they had to have this one and fists, elbows and everything were thrown before they were split up.
That opened my eyes as to how competitive things were at Leicester and it really was a who’s who of top players when I arrived. That was why I was worried about joining, people like Martin Johnson, Neil Back, Austin, Lewis Moody, Pat Howard and more, I didn’t think I’d be able to survive.
I got my chance, though, and was fortunate we won the Heineken Cup and the Premiership that season.
I came off the bench when we won the Heineken in Paris against Stade Français in a game that will always stick with me.
The next day I remember being in a Jacuzzi with my wife relaxing and looking out of the window and seeing the Eiffel Tower. I was thinking you don’t experience feelings like this often.
I’d originally signed on a one-year deal but after that I stayed for another season and got to win another Heineken Cup in Cardiff against Munster.
We ended up staying at Leicester for four years before moving to Plymouth Albion as a player-coach. I’d hoped to play a bit more than I did when I went down there but I struggled a bit with injuries.
I then had to decide whether to stay in coaching or go back into teaching, which is what I’d done in South Africa before the game went professional.
Lewis Moody was a good friend, and he’d gone to Oakham School, while Ian Smith, who teaches there, had also been involved in the Tigers’ coaching set-up.
I got an opportunity at Oakham and decided the stability would be good for my family. Eight years on I’m still here, and also involved with the academy at Leicester, so I’m enjoying it.
Before I came to the UK, I’d played in South Africa, firstly as an amateur before becoming a professional after the 1995 World Cup. It changed my life, having been a teacher in the Eastern Cape and then being able to just focus on playing.
With a team called Border I got to play against some top touring teams, and I was captain when we beat Wales in 1998. It was the tour they lost 96-13 to South Africa so probably not their greatest team, but still a special achievement for us.
I’d earlier played for one of the big clubs, Western Province, and leaving them might have counted against me in terms of higher honours. My parents always say if I’d stayed I’d have had a better chance of being picked for the Springboks.
But I wanted a chance to move to East London, on the Eastern Cape and I have no regrets.
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