Funnily enough I made my debut against the All Blacks playing opposite my current boss, Aaron Mauger, who was also one of the senior players when I moved from Gloucester to Leicester in 2009. England were in transition and we lost 41-20. I swapped jerseys with Aaron at the end and it’s on my wall at home.
Obviously, I didn’t think my next appearance against Argentina would be my last but injuries prevented me taking up my place on two England summer tours but I did enjoy an unbeaten run – and some good trips to North America – with the Saxons.
One time we went white water rafting in Colorado. The snow was melting in the mountains and the rapids were ferocious. Looking back, it’s unbelievable they let us do it. The instructor broke his ankle when he was flipped out of the boat and got his leg caught between two rocks. It was terrifying.
In club rugby, I’d trained with Harlequins while studying for my A Levels at Millfield. Chris Robshaw was the year above me at school and obviously went on to join Quins, but I also knew people at Gloucester and they just felt like the right fit at the time. Living in London didn’t really appeal to me.
It was custom for the new boys at Gloucester to have their heads shaved as part of their initiation. Somehow, I managed to avoid that. A few years later Andy Hazell, Mark Cornwell and Luke Narraway tried to enforce it retrospectively but I was having none of it.
Those early years at Gloucester were good times. Ryan Lamb would put me through holes with his guile and vision and I’d make a few tackles for him in return. As teenagers, we just went out and played for fun.
We played some good rugby, won the European Challenge Cup and topped the table twice only to miss out in the final and the semi-final in consecutive years. I think we felt the job was done.
My final year at Gloucester was badly disrupted by injury and with a lot of players moving on, I felt that if ever the time was right to move, this was it.
My game improved a lot on joining Leicester; my understanding of the game certainly came on leaps and bounds and I think if I hadn’t been capped already I’d have got another opportunity during those first two years at Tigers. Unfortunately, I think people thought I’d had my chance.
Winning the Premiership at the end of my first season reaffirmed why I had moved to Leicester: to win the big trophies. We made the next three finals, too, losing to Saracens and then Quins before beating Northampton in 2013 when I was named man of the match.
Personally, I thought Graham Kitchener should have got it as he scored a try and pulled off a try-saving tackle.
You’re made very aware of the importance of beating Northampton from the off at Tigers and that win and some of the victories we enjoyed at Franklin’s Gardens rank among my career highlights. Another is the try of the season I scored against Bath at The Rec towards the end of the 2010/11 campaign.
Unfortunately, we never made it past the quarter-finals in Europe, coming up just short against Toulon and then Leinster away when Alesana Tuilagi had a try disallowed.
Eventually my knees couldn’t take any more and I had to retire, aged just 28. Thankfully, I’ve got a great role on the coaching staff helping bring the next generation of Tigers through.