I’m old enough to have been through a few exams in my time. Often a question would be phrased “compare and contrast……” and if one was to relate to rugby union before the sport went professional twenty years ago and the current era, you wouldn’t be short of material.
In the 1990’s Exeter was a small club, a far cry from the one Tony Rowe has built methodically into one of the top teams in the land. One of the catalysts was their move from their old home at the County Ground to Sandy Park in 2006. Ground moves do not alone create success, only a freshness which cannot be matched by a lush September pitch and a few tins of paint.
I mention that because in 2003 I found former Gloucester captain Dave Sims at Exeter’s old County Ground doing some essential maintenance, which included painting the dressing rooms. He was half way through a two year contract with Exeter, yet nearly 13 years on he is still playing and promises to have one last big occasion before hanging up his boots with Withycombe, a club in Exmouth who have reached the final of the RFU Senior Vase. They’ll play West Leeds at Twickenham on May the 7th.
Sims started playing rugby at Longlevens, and made the short hop to Kingsholm and eventually onto full England honours with three caps. He played 138 League games for Gloucester, transcending the amateur and professional eras although he admitted some of old habits were hard to shake off.
“I think I should have taken fitness a bit more seriously and not drunk so much” Sims told me. “Tony Windo and I used to be the first to get changed after a game so we could drink as much of the free beer for the players as possible. In those days the wives and girl friends came into the club afterwards before we all went into town. If you had trained hard all week I couldn’t see anything wrong in enjoying yourself on a Saturday so long as you went for a run on a Sunday morning. Director of Rugby Richard Hill used to say I was the most unfit second row in the world. I wasn’t, it was just that Mark Cornwell could run like an antelope.”
Stories of Sims stacking fruit at chairman Peter Ford’s business on a Saturday morning before playing for Gloucester in the afternoon are part of Kingsholm folklore, as is the day he took the field against Saracens barely an hour after his son Nathaniel was born at Gloucestershire Royal Hospital.
In 1992, with the game still amateur, Sims had an offer to go to Wasps. He was unemployed at the time, and there was a job offer tied in. He stayed out of the loyalty to the people who had brought him through, and it was then that Peter Ford tested the Sims alarm clock with those early morning starts. He went on to spent 11 seasons at Gloucester, and when he moved to the west country he settled in and never left. Twickenham could not be a better venue to bring the curtain down on his career.
Photograph : www.zimbio.com