It’s Monday afternoon at Gloucester’s training base at Hartpury and James Simpson-Daniel has a buzz about him. His new baby son Oliver is doing well, the plastic boot that has been supporting his ankle since his November operation has been removed, and he knows he will be at Kingsholm until he’s 34 after signing to stay for two more seasons. He’s also just come out of a 90 minute team meeting. Perhaps that’s where the buzz has come from.
“We’ve had to take the criticism from the Saracens game on the chin” he told me. “They did all the simple things well and made the game look easy. Good teams and players do that. The biggest negative was that the dogged Gloucester effort people are used to was missing. We’ve a very loyal fan base and they will support you if they see you’re doing all the ugly stuff and getting amongst the opposition. If you’re beaten by a better side so be it, but we cannot expect them to keep coming to the well without seeing something in return.”
Sinbad is on crutches, and will be for another six weeks, but he – and his surgeon – are pleased with the progress so far, especially when there were a handful of separate elements to the injury rather than just a clean break. A lot happened and healing will therefore take longer.
“I had an X-ray on the Friday after New Year and it all looks to be healing up ok, with the plate holding everything together” James went on. “If it had been a clean break and nothing more I might have been off the crutches by now, but if we progress on schedule I’ll lose them in mid February and then
we should be able to really up the rehab.”
“Through my career I’ve learned that if a surgeon says four to six months don’t think the timescale will be at the lower end. Six months forward from the operation would be mid May, and unless something dramatic happens the season will probably be over then. The positive – and that’s how I’m looking at it – is that I have the summer to make sure I’m absolutely spot-on for when we have the pre-season games in August.”
Who will be in the squad at that point is a question that would fill many evenings over a pint in the meantime. The club has a clutch of players in their mid thirties who are out of contract. Other younger players may choose to go, or be released. Simpson-Daniel chuckles at the idea of him being the senior professional, but the fact he is here at all speaks volumes for his loyalty – the one factor he says he can pull out from that mind wrenching decision in the 2010-11 season to turn down French side Castres, who wanted him to join them in the Top 14.
“It feels like a long time ago but I remember it all. I was very open with Bryan Redpath. I went to have a look around and it was a fantastic set up. I met the coaching staff and when I came back I couldn’t think of a single negative, but when the contract came through I was away with the England Saxons. My heart sank when I read it.”
“It was a really good contract, life changing you could say. I’d been really impressed with Castres, and my wife was really supportive, saying how we’d have a great time, our son George could learn the language and that we could do five years and come home. You reel off the reasons why you should have gone and people ask you why you didn’t. The thing is Gloucester have always been good to me, and in my head I talked my way round to staying. When I signed, I was relieved. Do I regret it ? No. I felt comfortable here, and I still do.”
If there was anything to be taken from last Saturday’s dismantling by Saracens, it was that it could be called a dry run for the intensity Munster will show this evening. Sitting top of Pool 6, they know a win here will seal the group and Simpson-Daniel is first to acknowledge that the visit of a side steeped in Heineken Cup history is a special occasion.
“They are not the Munster we are used to but the core base is still there” he said. “They’ll be clinical in the contact area, and if they fall behind they’ll chip away at the scoreboard. We’ve got to go out there and put a little bit of last weekend right by being physical, sticking the ball up in the air and piling into them. The Shed will love that and we must come off thinking we’ve given it a real go.”
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