Yesterday marked the end of an era for me in a Bath Rugby shirt. Never did I think that when I walked through the doors as a 20-year-old, I’d go on to make over 250 appearances for the Club.
It was tough running out on to the pitch in the Blue, Black and White for the final time, but I’ve tried not to think about it too much over the last six months. The tough part for me was at the end of the game because that’s when you sign off. Before the game, I had a job to do and it was another opportunity to show myself for 80 minutes in the colours I’ve been in for 12 years.
Looking back though, my first days were tough. I remember turning up, and soon after the man who signed me, Brian Ashton left. Picture turning up at training standing at 6ft 7 and saying you’re a winger. It was pretty much unheard of back then, so you can imagine what the reaction was. It wasn’t an easy initiation – I had to prove I was a winger by going on probation for a few months before earning my stripes to train with the first team.
People doubt you no matter what you do, that’s life really. When you are told you can’t do this, it’s up to you to prove them wrong. I think I’ve proved it with my record here and with England – nobody can take that away from me. That’s why I can always go out there with a smile on my face.
I think it’s always important to remember where you started, that’s what keeps you grounded. I was just a little kid from Jersey with the opportunity to be the Island’s first professional rugby player. To be the first person to do that is something I would never have believed at the age of 15. I think that’s why I try and enjoy it as much as I can because I never expected any of it when I played my first game.
What I’ve gone on to achieve is something that I will treasure for the rest of my life. Winning the Challenge Cup in 2008 was a particular highlight. I didn’t realise at the time how much it would mean to so many people, not just the supporters, but the players too. We had a lot of players leaving that year, and you wouldn’t believe how much it meant to much to them to lift that trophy. It was amazing to be part of it and I think that’s where I started to think about what legacy I’d leave behind.
To be the third person to reach 250 games, top try scorer in the professional era for Bath and the only person to score a hat-trick in a Premiership Semi-Final are things that will always remain special to me. Being the first to do something gives people a target and whilst they will be overtaken, it’s nice to set that marker. When someone does accomplish those targets, they’ll be considered one of the greats of Bath Rugby.
Statistics and results aside, I just want to be remembered as someone who gave their all whenever I stepped on the field. I’m not flash and I’ve not got the X-Factor. I just try and do what my dad told me, and that was to do my basics as best as I can. If you give 110% and execute your basics, you’ll be out there playing. I’ve always played with a smile, win, lose or draw because I’m very fortunate to do what I do and play for this great Club.
Like with any workplace, it’s only as good as the people in it. I’m fortunate to have made over a decade’s worth of friends. When you’ve been somewhere so long (I’m starting to show my age now), you become part of the furniture and people talk to you differently. You think how many people have come through since I’ve been here and I’m still in contact with a lot of them.
I think Joe Maddock is probably the person that has had the greatest impact on me as a player. He was one of the senior players and played at a really high standard in New Zealand. He wasn’t only there to keep bettering himself, but everyone else too. He helped me and Bendy (Nick Abendanon) and we had a cracking time in those four years or so in the back three. It’s fitting that I end my journey here with Bath with Toby Booth, the person who set me on the path in rugby. Then there was Brian Ashton, who took a punt on me by bringing me to Bath and Steve Meehan, who gave me the opportunity to show what I can do when I came to the Club.
Then there’s my family, who have been with me every step of the way. Whilst I enjoy playing rugby, the main reason I do it is to keep my kids happy and even more so my wife, Becky! You only have a short shelf life as a professional sportsman or woman and at times it’s your family who suffer. It’s only with their unwavering support that I’ve been able to live out my dream.
The best thing about my family is that when I’ve had a rubbish game, they’ll tell me and when I’m good they tell me I’ve played okay! They’re the realists that keep me on the floor and that’s what’s helped me during my time here.
My parents weren’t able to fly over for the game and Becky was away, but there was still a big presence with my kids and the extended family in the stands. They’re all Bathonians and they’ll always support the Club. I’ve got an opportunity to further my career somewhere else, but my heart will always be here. When I finish playing rugby, I’ll be back in Bath and enjoying myself like all the other supporters when the boys are running out.
For me that 12 years has not only been family, but friends and supporters too. I think the thing that has stuck with me throughout is honesty – the more honest you are in sport, the more people that you care about understand what you’re going through.
I can’t thank the supporters enough. At the start of my career here, I just went out and enjoyed myself. When you approach the back end of your career, you create those relationships and develop that connection with the supporters, who follow you on that rollercoaster of a ride. There are bumps in the road, but make no mistake, we feel those losses and victories just as much as you do.
It was great to share memories with supporters last week and want to thank everyone at the Bath Rugby Supporters’ Club for giving me such a great send off. It’s been nice to leave on a lot of laughter, because that’s how it’s been from the very start.
I want to thank everyone from the bottom of my heart for making this an unforgettable experience.