Tighthead-prop Will Green joined Wasps in 1992 as an 18-year-old schoolboy. He made his first-team debut three years later and appeared over 250 times before joining Leinster in 2005. A regular in the side which won the Courage League in 1996/97, he also played in seven winning finals and won four England caps.
I loved all sports and played hockey, cricket and rugby for my school, Eastbourne College. One of our big local rivals was Brighton College, Alex King’s alma mater. I love reminding him of the time I caught him at short leg, after he edged into my stomach and it stuck. He was not pleased!
I played England Schools rugby and Geoff Strange, who managed Wasps Colts and Under 21s, recruited half the team, including myself.
My first Colts game was against Cardiff. Welsh hard men liked giving soft Home Counties types a rough time, which soon toughened us up! Geoff’s recruits were the heart of a very successful Colts team – Nick Greenstock, Andy Gomarsall, Darren Molloy, Paul Volley, Jonny Ufton, Dugald Macer, Lawrence Dallaglio.
A couple of months after I left university, the game went professional. In the early days of professionalism, when we were still at Sudbury, conditions were pretty shambolic.
Although it was really a bit of
a dump, it was our dump but it kept our feet firmly on the ground and helped build a “them and us” mentality. In the year after it was sold, we trained in about ten different places.
When we were at Bisham Abbey, the physio had to put his bench up in the corridor. But we kept that core of players together which led to some fun times. Moving to Twyford Avenue finally gave us our own base again.
Winning the league in the first fully professional year was an amazing experience which sent a strong message to Rob Andrew and the others who’d gone to Newcastle.
We felt that a lot of the youngsters had been slightly suppressed by the old guard. We were unleashed on to the league and we pulled it off. We had some great stalwarts like Matt Greenwood and Gareth Rees and it was a team with a lot of mismatches, but we won it.
Our first game at Loftus Road against Saracens, was a great occasion. I hadn’t played at Sale, a week earlier, but I just remember the quality of the pitch compared to the previous week. We played some tremendous rugby that day and completely blew them away. It really set the tone for Loftus Road that season. It was a postage stamp-sized pitch, which really flummoxed some visiting teams. We hardly lost there that year.
One of my favourite memories is of scoring a try deep into injury time, to snatch a win at Kingsholm. The Shed went ballistic. After the game, I was interviewed on the pitch by Sky and somebody punched me in the back!
The double year of 2003/04, our Heineken Cup pool decider in Perpignan, was the most brutal game I’ve ever played in, but we knew we could take whatever they threw at us.
The moment when Lawrence got us together behind the posts at Lansdowne Road, after we’d gone ten points down in the semi against Munster, remains a blur. But I think he just told us that we were still in the game.
We were dominating it, and we let them in. We couldn’t believe we were losing by ten points. You know in a game whether you’re beating someone. Regardless of the score, you know whether you’ve got one over the opposition. We knew that we had. We knew they were pretty fragile. We just had the belief that it would come good.
It also comes back to wanting to prove people wrong. A lot of people felt we couldn’t do it over there. It may just have come from those chippy lads up at Sudbury.
I don’t know how we beat Toulouse in the final. If it had gone to extra-time, I’m sure we would have lost. I’m very proud of my tackle count of 18 that day - more than in
my previous five games put together. In some games, I made none! Six days later, our belief got us through in the Premiership final against Bath Rugby.
As well as the belief, our fitness was a major weapon. Those camps in Poland were really tough. The cryotherapy chamber sessions weren’t actually too bad. You knew that you were only in there for a couple of minutes, stomping around with your mates in the freezing cold. It was ice baths which really hurt. The pain, as your ankles began to go numb, was absolutely horrendous.
My final game for Wasps was the 2005 Premiership final against Leicester Tigers. I was up against Graham Rowntree. We’d faced each other many times and there was great mutual respect.
When a scrum went down, he kneed me, but I just belted him back and that was the end of
it! It was great to leave on a high and to close that particular chapter. What better way to end my time at Wasps?
THOUGHTS ON MODERN GAME
I loved being a professional player but I think the last few amateur years were a golden era for my generation. There was more to life than just rugby. Young players today have to make a massive commitment to the game at such an early age and they know that one injury could end their career. It’s such a power game now and defences are unbelievable. The athleticism of all the players is remarkable but it’s not really a game for all sizes any more - at least, not at the highest level. It’s absolutely brutal and attritional.
The World Cup showed again that the biggest challenge for the game is narrowing the gap between Tier 1 and Tier 2 countries. It wasn’t just the gulf in quality, it’s just dangerous for highly-paid, finely-tuned professionals to play against amateurs.
I still enjoy watching rugby, but my only direct involvement is a little bit of coaching at my son’s school. I find it rewarding but I wouldn’t want to do it week in, week out. It’s great to be part of Wasps Legends.
Saracens tried to get Peter Scrivener before he joined Wasps. If they’d succeeded, we wouldn’t have had to put up with him for all those years, but the Legends would never have happened, so every dark cloud has a silver lining!