One of my customers asked me today why I stopped playing rugby at an early age. I stopped when I was 28 which is about 3 or 4 years earlier than what I could have played for. I was injury free at the time and have always been fairly lucky with injury compared to others around me. I will never forget an ex player telling me that if you are fully committed in what you are doing and execute it properly injury will be less likely. When you tackle someone you hit them harder so they soften your blow. I do believe in that and I knew some nutters who were maniacs and they never got injured seriously. Having some stitches or bad bruising was normal as long as it remained like that it wasn't classified as an injury.
I must admit I never thought of injury whilst playing as I always had support around me. When I say support I had a company that was understanding and encouraged me to play. I knew that if something did happen they wouldn't throw the book at me and leave me hanging. Our Managing Director at the time was the chairman at the blue Bulls Rugby team and we had ex players dotted through the ranks in various management positions. Rugby was part of the company and they all look after each other.Rugby was more important than work and would turn a blind eye if I had to train during working hours.
When I was playing in England the company was the same as in South Africa ,but somewhat different even though they were rugby mad. I was welcomed more I think out of a looking over your shoulder in fear than a proper welcome. At the time the South African arm owned this company and I was seen as a spy and someone they had to keep sweet. I can see it now, but at the time I felt an unease with me being around and couldn't put a finger on it.
They were all for me playing and kept on asking who I was going to sign for which left me nervous. The problem was that rugby had gone professional and knowing I only had 4 years left in my playing career I was stuck between a rock and a hard place. If I was single it would have been a simple decision, but I had a young family to think about.
I mulled it over for weeks as I wasn't 100 percent sure what to do. If I played and was offered a contract then what? I knew I would make one of the sides comfortably as I had a few mates I had played with previously playing for various premiership teams around the country.One tried to get me to go and play for Swansea and another was pushing me to go to London Irish.The problem is rugby was full time now and that meant you can't work and play so it is either one or the other. I wasn't prepared to play for a small team just to play as that wasn't me.
I spoke with one of the clubs to see how I could keep my job and still play and they were accommodating saying it was possible at that point still. I then spoke with the company I was working for and that is when I didn't trust anything they said. It would be great for them to have me playing, but when it came to injury I was on my own. I would have insurance from the club I was playing for, but then again professionalism was still new and there was the unknown. Injury would be at the back of my mind whilst playing which isn't healthy as it is a concern. Breaking bones and injuries that can have you on crutches for months is a reality of the sport.
This was the reason why I stopped and took up refereeing instead which is still keeping that world alive in me even though deep down I still wanted to be part of it. My age was against me and if I was two or three years younger I wouldn't have hesitated and taken full advantage of the professional sport. It is just a pity that professionalism hit after the 1995 World Cup "officially" even though we had been getting payments in the years leading up to it, small ones but illegal as it was an amateur sport still.