In less time than it takes Usain Bolt to run 100 metres, Trevor Woodman could have left rugby behind.
That’s how close the former Gloucester and England prop came to turning his back on the game that had given him the elation of winning the World Cup, and literally years of pain with injury.
Almost 10 years on from since that famous win in Sydney, Woodman and the rest of the successful England squad have met for a re-union weekend. There was a charity dinner on Friday night in Battersea, and another one following Saturday’s 20-13 victory over Australia for the players, partners, coaches and backroom staff from 2003.
I met Woodman at a health club in Gloucester. Now 37, he reflected on a decade that had seen him retire early from playing, live and coach in Australia and then return home to spend four years coaching at Wasps.
“The time has gone very quickly but a lot has happened, especially personally” he said. “When you are playing at the top of the game there are always a lot of people around to support you. When you finish, you turn round and that group becomes a handful. The only question is ‘what are you doing now’ and I got fed up answering it. That’s what brought about the move to Sydney and it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.”
The door to a successful life down under was opened by the Sydney University President David Mortimer.
A successful businessman, Mortimer was open to the idea of Woodman being a part time coach as he
assessed what else he might like to do.
After almost a year in the city, Mortimer’s network of contacts through a group called the Friends of Sydney University then gave the former Kingsholm favourite a decision to make. He was offered a role at a property company called Mirvac. The pull of rugby remained strong however, and he jumped, as he put it, “two footed” into coaching full time at the University until he returned to England in 2009.
Visibly, Woodman has changed very little. At Gloucester, his playing weight was around 114kg. During his time in Australia, he was down to 96kg. These days he is somewhere in between and still trains, although in a different way. He has become a keen cyclist, having completed the Etape du Tour a couple of years ago, where thousands of riders challenge themselves over one stage of the Tour de France.
His body, however, bears the scars of battle. His injuries were major. He had surgery on his neck a year before the World Cup, and at times couldn’t lift his fingers while the palm of his hand was on a flat surface. He could have had his back fused but that would have caused pressure on the discs above and below. His neck surgeon, Rick Nelson, advised against it.
“I wanted to be a British Lion but when Rick said it wasn’t going to happen, you have to be sensible” said Woodman. “As a competitive person I wanted 50 England caps, not 22. In my eyes it’s ‘only’ 22, but you learn to be appreciative of what you did and what you were a part of. You can’t put the same forces through your body any more. I’m booked in for a scan to get my neck looked at again because it’s started giving me loads of grief over the last five or six months.”
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