Indestructible Harlequins prop Mark Lambert shows no sign of letting go of a battling career as he aims to add gloss to a remarkable effort that has defied the odds.
Plagued by injuries early on, Lambert made his Premiership debut for Quins against Gloucester in October 2004 but appeared destined never to fulfil his potential after suffering a broken knee-cap on England U21 duty in 2006 – an injury he repeated on his comeback.
Nearly 16 years on, however, and with 251 games for Quins to his name, the one-club veteran, who is now an ardent campaigner for player welfare as chairman of the Rugby Players’ Association, is ready to add another chapter to a remarkable playing career.
Lambert told The Rugby Paper: “This is something I probably wouldn’t have imagined at the start of my career, certainly not five years in. I had lots of injuries and challenges early on and I only played seven first team games at Quins in my first five years as a pro.
“I thought a couple of times before the age of 21 that I might have to retire, so to still be going past my 35th birthday and to have had the opportunity to play in my 250th in a big game, starting at the Stoop against Exeter the other week, worked out pretty well.
“The game has definitely increased physically and player welfare is now front and centre of all our decision-making in my role with the RPA, but what’s also changed hugely over the course of my career is the medical provision and investment in sports science.
“Whether it’s through GPS units, recovery protocols or the number of physios and doctors that clubs now employ, it’s not something that for a moment the game is underestimating and, as a union, we’re striving to make player welfare provisions even better.”
From relegation to the Championship in his first season through to Bloodgate, winning the Premiership title in 2012 and now striving for success again under Paul Gustard, Lambert has seen everything as another chance of silverware is within reach.
He reflects: “I’ve had five different directors of rugby from Mark Evans to Dean Richards, Conor O’Shea, John Kingston and Paul Gustard. Back in the day, Mark was chief executive as well as being our DoR, which shows how much the game has changed.
“Gussy has a really strong vision for what he wants the club to be and he works incredibly hard and expects that from his players as well. Obviously, we’ve had a fair bit of transition as a squad, but we want to achieve something special and that’s our focus.
“We’ve shown some really good moments in the season and put in some really good performances, as you saw against Exeter. But, like a lot of clubs in the league, we haven’t quite found the consistency and we’ve had some disappointing results as well.
“As a group we’ve got high ambitions and it’s now about maintaining performance levels if we want to take that next step.”
Lambert has not ruled out extending his career into a 17th year. He added: “I’m no spring chicken and my first team debut in 2004 seems a long time ago! I don’t have a million years left so I’m in the process of working things out.
“A lot depends on the RPA and I’m closely involved with the Harlequins Foundation as well, so there’s a few things ongoing but as yet it’s undecided.”
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