Jamie Shillcock Exclusive: ‘It is an easier life than it was at the beginning of September’

Ex-Worcester Warriors back Jamie Shillcock [left] poses with former Wasps captain Joe Launchbury [right] after the two played one another on Christmas Day in Japan
©Jamie Shillcock

Jamie Shillcock will be entering 2023 nine hours ahead of his family and friends back home in England.

He will leave 2022 as a Mitsubishi Sagamihara DynaBoars player, the 25-year-old having already made an impact in Japan Rugby League One and will be putting a tumultuous 12 months behind him.

His childhood club Worcester Warriors has ceased to exist in the same year that the side lifted the Premiership Rugby Cup, forcing him and the rest of his teammates to find work elsewhere.

A month with Bath in the Gallagher Premiership would follow, Shillcock signed by Johann van Graan principally as injury cover for a month and left the Recreation Ground having made one appearance in different colours.

Shillcock speaks to TRU from his new home in Sagamihara ahead of a Christmas Day matchup with a Toyota Verblitz side boasting the talents of Pieter-Steph du Toit and Joe Launchbury.

Playing for the DynaBoars at fly-half, Shillcock joked before the game that it had been a while since he’d been the key playmaker for a side, former Scarlets and London Irish coach Glenn Delaney’s trust in the Englishman repaid with a 27-25 win, his family and girlfriend tuning in at 03:00 to see him in action.

Bagging 12 points Shillcock was hugely influential in his team’s win and backed up the newly promoted side’s 34-8 win on the opening day of the season against a Black Rams side which contained former England international Nathan Hughes and ex-Wales man, Hadleigh Parkes in fine fashion.

He described these past six months as a ‘lot to process’ and it is not hard to see why. From the summer, rumours swirled around Worcester, the club served a winding-up order by HMRC before the full extent of the club’s financial situation coming to light and seeing the club enter liquidation and the players look elsewhere for work.

“When I was there [Bath], I was still looking about and seeing if anything was going,” Shillcock said. “This popped up and it took some thinking. It is one of those where it’s a life experience, but it is also something that pays the bills as well.

“Because otherwise I would be sitting at home, waiting to see if anyone gets injured and tried to pick up a medical joker job. Obviously, you don’t wish ill on anyone, so morally it wasn’t the kind of thing I wanted to do and sit there and do nothing until something happened.

“It came on the table, and there was a few conversations; whether it was the right thing, how I’d cope, how the family would cope, my missus. So, I am here. I flew out on the ninth from Heathrow and got straight into it.

“They had their last preseason game as I arrived, so I ended up watching that. It has been hectic trying to catch up, and got chucked straight into the mix last weekend on the bench and starting this weekend.

“It has been good so far. It is just a lot to process this season already, going from settles at Worcester, to Worcester no more, to Bath for a month and then moving to Japan.”

It was the end of September in a 39-5 win over Newcastle Falcons that Shillcock played his final game for Worcester. Despite only being 25, he had been a professional with the side for approaching eight years, making his debut when the side were in the Championship as a 17-year-old and back then he played scrum-half.

He says that his first appearance for Worcester against London Scottish in the second leg of their playoff semi-final as “probably the quickest and scrappiest debut”, describing how he went into one ruck on the search for a turnover before quickly retreating as full-grown men came flying into the breakdown.

Shillock then sat on the bench for consecutive games as Warriors regained their place in the English top-flight as the side bettered Bristol over two legs, Ryan Lamb’s last gasp conversion securing the 59-58 aggregate win, the half-back amusingly listed as ‘Jamie Shillcott’ online when you look up the fixtures.

“I just remember turning up in a suit [for his debut] and the boys taking the piss, thinking I was coming for a job interview rather than playing a game,” Shillcock laughed.

“My mum never bought me stuff that fitted, because even at 17 she thought I would have this massive growth spurt at some point. So it was a little bit too big. Then, I didn’t have any kit, so I had to borrow some boots and stuff. I was running around in huge boots and kit that didn’t fit for training, looking like an absolute clown.

“I always think ‘why as a Bristol team would you not try and target the starting nine, JB Bruzulier, and get me on, this 17-year-old with four minutes of rugby and doesn’t really have a clue what is going on, why would you not try and get me on the field?’.

“They might of stood a better chance. But they didn’t, and the rest is history with Lamby kicking the winner at Sixways. It was a good time.”

In total, Shillcock made 104 appearances for Worcester. The latter three of those came as he and his teammates were staring down the barrel of oblivion for an entire preseason, the speculation around their future more constant than the communication from their owners.

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That win over Newcastle Falcons in the Premiership would prove to be the club’s last. It was an emotional day at Sixways, the side rampaging towards a bonus point victory and putting a close to Shillcock’s 14-year association with the club that took him on from Warwick School.

“I still feel the same about it,” he said. “Just frustrated with how it all went. Not just for me, for everyone around Worcester and Worcestershire. It was just such a weird time.

“Going from every Monday, thinking ‘look, we’re going again, we are not done yet, we will prepare for the game this weekend, see how we get on and by the weekend we will know if we are playing or not, then we will do our best, see how we get on and then do it all again on Monday’.

“Towards the end it was so stop-start. We went through phases of not being paid and the boys refusing to train, which Dimes [Steve Diamond, Worcester’s ex-Director of Rugby] understood and just said ‘look lads, it is up to you at the end of the day’, and we had a couple of days to try and work out what was going on and all that kind of stuff.

“It was a very strange time, but like I say it was frustrating and upsetting for a lot of people. I had been there for years. Just for that to slip away, especially the last game against Newcastle, it was like ‘if this is the end, it is a good way to finish, but please don’t let it be the end’.

“It was just hoping and wishing. In the back of your mind there was the realism of ‘it probably is the end’. I finished that game, had some photos with parents, friends and family knowing that would be it, then took myself off and sat in the middle of the pitch for half an hour just to soak it all in and think ‘this is it’.

“At that point, I probably did know that it was all done and dusted, but we didn’t know that until the following week. I think most boys felt the same.”

Sat on the halfway line with a beer in hand, Shillcock was eventually joined by teammates past and present, as well as several fans. Sixways is a place filled with memories, whether it be playing for the Worcester academy, county fixtures or even as a visitor with Warwick School to take on RGS Worcester or Kings Worcester, it was a significant part of Shillcock’s life.

In mid-December, the club’s preferred bidders had their bid to take charge of Warriors rejected by the Rugby Football Union. The governing body stated that Atlas Worcester Warriors RFC Limited were not prepared to meet conditions, and as a result were unable to have their application approved.

As part of that announcement, the RFU urged administrators to look at other bids for the club, putting the side’s return up in the air, while Wasps had their application accepted and will compete in the Championship from the 2023/24 season.

“You have got to hope that it will get back up and running,” Shillcock said. “I don’t know what that looks like or who is going to run it or where the money is going to come from, but from the sound of it at some point hopefully they’ll find someone that is adequate and suitable to take it on and run it properly as a business.

“It has got to be streamlines, and not make money, but break even at least. There is no point creating a rugby club that is going to pour money down the drain and gets to the same situation we have been in already. There has got to be some hope.

“Everyone is still hoping that it does come back, that they can solidify Champ and work their way back into the Premiership. It seems to be on pause at the moment until everything else gets sorted.”

In the weeks that have followed, plenty of Shillcock’s former teammates have found themselves new clubs. He was even reunited with Ollie Lawrence, Ted Hill, Fergus Lee-Warner, Valery Morozov and Billy Searle while calling Somerset home, whileasothers like Curtis Langdon has moved to Montpellier, Francois Venter to the Sharks, Fin Smith to Northampton Saints, while Joe Batley, Noah Heward and Jay Tyack all now call Bristol Bears home.

With the stability of his DynaBoars contract to see him through until the conclusion of the domestic season in Japan, Shillcock can focus fully on his rugby again. He is not isolated at the club, where former Premiership players Curtis Rona and Matt To’omua also ply their trade.

So far it is so good for the group. Winning promotion back to Division 1 earlier this year, the side have picked up two wins to start the season and will play incumbent champions, the Saitama Wild Knights, in just over a weeks’ time.

Encounters with Englishmen will be few and far between. Joe Launchbury picked up a knock on Christmas in the loss to the DynaBoars, the next time that Shillcock will hear a familiar voice most likely being when coming up against Tom Savage and Suntory Sungoliath at the end of January.

With league competition running until mid-May, is certainly going to be an arduous and testing few months. A competition which has seen its stock only ever rise from year to year, Shillcock is due to have the experience of a lifetime and can afford to be a little more laidback than several months ago.

“People maybe underestimated the DynaBoars a little bit and thought they were like the Worcester of old; that they’d be yo-yoing up and down the leagues a little bit,” Shillcock said.

“The plan is to solidify into the league, and then for me personally; keep myself playing, keep myself fit, healthy and try and enjoy it a little bit. It is not something that many people get to do, to come over here and spend a season playing and embracing a different culture.

“Everyone is happy and looks excited to be there. There are no sappers or anything like that, everyone seems really chuffed to be involved in the whole programme. It is quite a nice thing to come in every day and people are buzzing to be there.

“It is nice to be able to enjoy it a little bit and try and have a laugh and a bit of a smile, rather than wondering if we are actually going to have a game at the weekend and if we are going to get paid. It is an easier life than it was at the beginning of September. That’s for sure.”