I’VE never been a prolific player in the Premiership or become an iconic international player. However, I realise ‘my time in rugby’ has been unorthodox enough for you to hopefully read on. A career described by one of my mates as being “humble… but includes cool stuff ” – I guess he was being nice!
That “cool stuff ” includes representing two nations. I grew up wanting to play for England, forging my way through the age grades from U16s to U20s. I managed to be part of a formidable squad with the U20s, playing alongside the likes of Henry Slade, Jack Nowell, Anthony Watson and Luke Cowan-Dickie, and we went on to be crowned Junior World Champions in 2013. However, that would be the final time I’d wear the Red Rose. A combination of simply not being good enough (best to be honest), and my dad’s eye for a different pathway, led my international career in a completely different direction.
During an Exeter fixture against Worcester, my dad watched me from the Sixways stands as I made a decent enough impact from the bench to help secure a win for the Chiefs. My dad so happened to sit next to an American couple who were very happy to hear about my dad’s mother who was born and raised in Los Angeles. The man in the couple happened to be on the board of directors for USA Rugby. He quickly realised I could represent the Eagles with my grandmother’s heritage, resulting in email exchanges and phone numbers being sent to my agent. After a bit of time going back and forth, I eventually took up the opportunity.
Playing for the USA has been the biggest honour of my career. My first appearance against Argentina XV in 2018, was ironically in Los Angeles, and received my first cap against Canada a week later. It’s been the most amazing rollercoaster of an international career. I’ve played all over the world, from South America to Suva, Denver to Dublin, and everywhere in between. Career highlights have to be the 2019 World Cup in Japan, but probably our win against Scotland in Houston, 2018, has to be the greatest win and night I’ve ever been involved in.
Playing for the USA comes with its frustrations, an organisation which has been on its knees financially in recent times. Injuries have also been frustrating for me, missing caps over the years and in particular missing the World Cup 2023 Qualifiers both in July and November due to a shoulder surgery. It was crushing watching us, the USA, miss out on qualifying for the World Cup next year. With my 20 appearances and one World Cup in the bank, I’m thankful for the memories and achievements I’ve made. Who knows what the future holds…
Away from my international career, my domestic rugby has also been quite an adventure. As a five-year-old, I started at Cambridge Rugby Club, and developed further by playing rugby at school, in particular The Leys School in Cambridge. I worked my way up the various systems, coming through the Northampton Saints Junior Academy from the age of 12 and finally gained my first professional contract after finishing my A-Levels at the age of 18.
“I felt so lucky to be part of incredible few years at Northampton Saints”
I think I was part of one of the last generations to be ‘thrown into the deep end’ with a bit of old-school culture shocking. Rubbing shoulders with the likes of Dylan Hartley, Courtney Lawes and Samu Manoa accelerated my knowledge of the game and made me realise just how tough you had to be to make it as a pro. I felt part of the Saints family and was guided brilliantly on the field by the likes Stephen Myler, and Lee Dickson. Off the field I was also guided properly by Dylan, who was a formidable leader, very capable of organising a good social.
I felt so lucky to be part of an incredible few years at Northampton Saints, where we were crowned Premiership and European Challenge Cup champions in 2014. Playing behind the veteran, Myler, meant starting or even getting off the bench was challenging. Nonetheless, helped by good loan performances as a 19-yearold at Moseley, where I enjoyed some of my fondest rugby memories under Irish legend, Kevin Maggs, I climbed my way into the Saints first team.
I will never forget the roar of Franklin’s Gardens in my first East Midlands derby or winning on the road in the Premiership. Playing in England’s top flight and in Europe was all I ever wanted. Playing in that squad, particularly throughout the 2013-14 campaign, winning titles, wearing medals and having bus parades around Northampton was a dream come true.
In 2015, a favourable offer came up from an exciting Exeter Chiefs side. I decided my career was going to be accelerated under Rob Baxter and Ali Hepher down in Devon. The Chiefs were looking ever more impressive and playing alongside my former England U20s teammates, Henry Slade, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Jack Nowell and co, was very appealing. I bought my first house, met my now wife, and had consistent involvement in the team playing under Gareth Steenson.
I hold great memories at Sandy Park, from my ‘Crystal Maze’ initiation (something Hartley would be impressed by), to successes on the field such as winning the A-League title in 2016, crushing a Sale Sharks side on Boxing Day and travelling round Europe playing in Clement Auvergne and Bordeaux.
My time at the Chiefs unfortunately came to an end as a result of bad concussion against Harlequins near the end of 2016. After months out recovering and Joe Simmonds coming brilliantly through the ranks, I sat down with Rob Baxter and realised my future at the club was looking limited. It sounds dramatic, but it felt my career came crashing down. Although getting back fit and playing a part in the squad’s Premiership winning campaign in 2017, I didn’t feel like a winner. I was devasted. I hold Baxter with the highest respect for being honest to me, but it was the realisation that sport is cut throat.
Supported by my wife, and by Ali Hepher, I realised I needed to go away and get quality game time. Step forward Mike Rayer and, Hepher’s old club, Bedford Blues. Reflecting now, it was some of the most enjoyable years of my career. Bedford Blues is a proper rugby club. It knows what it is, and although frustrating at times with the club’s unwillingness to go for promotion, Mikey knows how to bring a team together. Furthermore, he also supported me to take the opportunity and represent the USA, whilst also playing for the Blues.
In two years, I helped the Blues to finish back-to-back third in the Championship and a British & Irish Cup semi-final spot, whilst also jetting off to the likes of San Diego and Chicago in my international career.
To this day, my wife and I forged lifelong friendships. I loved the team bonding trips (Bruges being the GOAT), running out in front of the Bedford faithful, and playing with some quality talent, such as Rich Lane and Dean Adamson.
I left Bedford after being approached by Saracens. It was a chance to get back playing in the Premiership, which I craved, and a unique opportunity to help Sarries get out of their situation in the Championship. In addition, I had the chance to play, train and be around some of the best players in the world, such as Owen Farrell, Elliot Daly and Maro Itoje.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Saracens. Hands down, it’s the best organisation I’ve been part of, both on and off the field. I wished I could have played more and stayed longer, but with loanees coming back and salary caps being on everyone’s agenda, it felt I once again needed to pack up and move.
That move has led me to where I am now. A rollercoaster of a journey, spanning over a decade, eventually made my wife and I say yes to the experience of a lifetime here in Southern California. With my wish to help rugby grow in America and for us as a couple to experience the Californian life, the move to San Diego Legion in Major League Rugby has been amazing. On the field, it has been very enjoyable, playing all around America and in the sun of California. Personally, and collectively, we probably under achieved in my first year, including some untimely injuries. There are challenges off the field, but overall, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. Something special is building in San Diego and the MLR. I’m looking forward to starting a new Legion season, with the aim to win the ‘shield’.
So, there’s my life in rugby so far. It hasn’t been a straightforward ride but I’m grateful for all the opportunities, people I’ve met and the memories made along the way. Here’s to 2023 and hopefully some more “cool stuff” – as my mate would say.