Born in Cape Town, he first touched a rugby ball as a toddler, in the back garden. Moved to the UK at the age of 11. Attended Harrow School and played for Wasps Colts. While at Bristol University, played for Bath and Bristol. Joined Wasps in 1998 and was there for ten years, winning medals galore. Man of the Match in the 2007 Heineken Cup Final.
There were several future Wasps at Bristol Uni. Myself, Alex King, Josh Lewsey, Mark Denney. Simon Shaw was at the Poly. I know they call it the University of the West of England - but once a poly, always a poly!
When the game first went pro, Gloucester were courting Kingy and me. They took us up there in a Rolls Royce, stood us in front of Mike Burton and a few other big cheeses and offered us contracts for the second half of the season. It was an exciting time and we all thought (wrongly) that we were going to become multi-millionaires, but Bob Reeves, who was in charge of sport at Bristol Uni and went on to become president of RFU, told us not to sign anything. A lot of clubs were after Kingy. When he went to Wasps, the rest of us followed. I’d always wanted to go back there anyway, having played colts rugby for them when I was at Harrow. I’d come under Roger Uttley’s wing and had also been taught by Alan Buzza, so I felt Wasps was my club.
When I joined, I’d been out injured for some time and Nigel Melville took a bit of a punt on me. I didn’t actually play until January. I made my debut in the cup, up at Sedgley Park. It was cold and wet and wasn’t the ideal test for a dodgy groin.
When Gats took over from Nigel, he didn’t make many changes to the squad. He realised he had a good side, which could win one-off games, like cup finals, but he felt we should be more consistent. He brought Craig White in to take charge of fitness and his methods were revolutionary. Short, sharp sessions, plenty of rest, great medical back-up. We were looked after well. Gats just made us more professional. You can see from what he’s done with other teams that he’s real quality. We were lucky to have a good team and a good coach.
When Shaun came in, Gats suggested that we should defend like they did in Rugby League. Shaun took it on and that’s how the blitz defence came about. Stuart (Abbott) and I really enjoyed it, because we didn’t actually have to do that much tackling. By coming up fast, we stopped them passing to the guys we were marking, so they went back inside and Kingy and the back row had to do most of the tackling. Stuart and I both preferred running fast at people rather than waiting for them to run at us.
The 2004 Heineken Cup season stands out. I used to love those European trips, where we were able to mix with the fans afterwards. I really enjoyed the game at Perpignan. Sitting in the dressing-room and listening to Lawrence giving it some was like preparing for war. That’s what I miss, now that I’m not playing - the camaraderie and togetherness. The Munster match was unforgettable, but we didn’t go crazy afterwards. We just sat down and said that we now had to beat Toulouse. The real excitement came when we won the final. All the finals were special, but my last one, the 08 Premiership final, was particularly so, as I knew it was my last game.
2003/04 was also the season in which I scored a first-half hat-trick in a Friday night game up at Sale. It was nice to score tries, but it was just as satisfying to help others score them and our wingers were always at or near the top of the try-scoring list. One other vivid memory of playing against Sale was the time Sebastien Chabal spat at me at Adams Park. He’d just been shown a yellow card and was trudging off very slowly. I helpfully suggested that he might get a move on as we wanted to carry on with the game. He didn’t like that, and I thought he was going to hit me. Instead, he spat at me and it hit me right in the eye. Probably better than a punch! I did a Barbarians tour with him a few weeks later, in South Africa. We didn’t communicate much, but they loved him out there.
Most people don’t know that before coming to Wasps, I won the Courage League with Bath in the last amateur season. I came off the bench in the final game. I think we drew and Leicester lost, which made us champions. I managed to get to the front to lift the trophy and everybody must have been thinking “Who the **** is that?”
My two boys play minis at Battersea Ironsides and I've coached my younger son’s age group. They both love it, which is great.
I try to watch Wasps when they’re on the TV, but I don’t watch many other games. I’m a supporter from afar. The biggest changes I can see, compared with when I was playing, are the obvious ones. Fitness and skill levels are higher. I know some people get worked up about how high tackles are officiated, but I don’t have an issue with that. They have to clamp down on anything which could cause injuries. There may be a transition period when there are different interpretations, but it’s definitely the right thing to do. I don’t think anyone in their right mind can say that the game’s getting soft. It’s getting harder and harder. The sheer size of the players and the hits that are going on. Overall, I think it’s in pretty good shape. I really enjoy watching it and it’s getting better all the time.