When people ask me what its like to play professional rugby there are a few phrases that pop up time and time again. Privileged, a dream come true, the best job in the world, the hardest thing I have ever done in my life.
I'm different to a lot of my team mates and peers at other clubs; I came to full time rugby quite late signing my first full time contract at 24. I'd had a gap year, gone to University and got a degree and started a Masters, then entered the world of work for 18 months. I did my grind at the 9-5 or (8-6 as it turned out to be) and played part time rugby for Wharfedale in National 1. I learnt what life was like and had all but given up the thought of full time rugby before being given an opportunity at Rotherham.
This is why I'm a bit different to the other guys I play with, I know what else there is out there and I think that makes me appreciate what I get to do everyday a little bit more. Don't get me wrong, as a prop forward I feel it is my duty to moan and loudly express my distaste as soon as we have any kind of fitness session along with everybody else but afterwards I'll always remind the guys of what the alterative could be. It helps us focus and I like to think helps keep our feet on the ground.
However full time rugby is not all roses, as I said earlier it's the hardest thing I've ever done in my life. Not just the obvious physical exertions but the mental attitude required at all times.
When I was doing my 9-5 I was working for one of the fastest growing sports and leisure marketing agencies in the region called Banana Kick. It was hectic, meeting clients, preparing briefs, meeting deadlines, getting things to press etc etc. Much like the jobs most people do it required a lot of concentration. When I started playing rugby I thought that mentally I would get a bit of break, but the reality turned out to be very different.
Recently, during an injury spell, I found myself dining with some sponsors before a game and was asked how rugby compared to a 'normal' job. This was the analogy I gave.
Take any job, but for this example we'll use a sales office. Imagine an office of 30 people all selling shoes. Imagine that when you got to work on Monday morning, you didn't actually get to sell any shoes, you only got to practice; scenario after scenario, over and over until it was perfect.
Then imagine that the whole time you were practicing selling your shoes, somebody was watching you, taking notes and comparing how you were selling shoes to the person next to you, and the other 28 people all doing the same thing in the room.
Then imagine that when you get in on a Wednesday, 15 of you will have been picked as the best. You are the ones that will actually get to sell to real people, but first you have to practice for two more days. Those not selected to sell shoes will have to help those who have been deemed good enough to perfect what they are doing, even though they will not get to talk to any real customers.
Next, if you are lucky enough to be one of the 15 who get to meet actual customers and sell to them, you find out that you will only have 2 hours to sell as much as you can, and use all the things you've practiced through the week.
Then imagine that once you have been selected and get to the shop floor ready to sell like you never have before, that people have paid their own hard earned cash to watch you sell shoes. That suddenly when you've tried all week to be better than the person next to you, to be one of the lucky 15 salesmen, to only have a short time to show what you can do, that 2000 + people will be watching your every move.
Imagine it's your job and if you could work like that. The mental pressure is exhausting but I wouldn't change any of it. Because when it goes well and people can see its going well, there is no better place to be.