Journey through rugby – Simon Danielli
Posted 301 days ago
Age 32 (8 September 1979)
SCOTLAND WINGER Simon Danielli retired last month, a back injury forcing him to hang up his boots. He won 32 caps for his country and represented Bath, Bristol, Borders and Ulster at club level. Here the 32-year-old looks back at his life and times – and talks about the future…
It’s sad to retire. It wasn’t an easy decision but it was based on medical advice. I had to think about life after rugby and I want to be able to run around with my kids.
The bubble of playing rugby has burst. I’ve now got to go out into the real world! People talk about the challenge of leaving rugby and while it’s still very fresh for me, there’s uncertainty about the future. It’s a tough transition but hopefully it’ll be as smooth as possible.
I’ve never had a proper job. I went to university and I’ve done a business skills diploma, but I’ll have to get used to the workplace. I’m keen to get into the business of sport, but nothing is really fixed yet.
Belfast is my home now. My wife, Olivia, is from Northern Ireland and her family are over here. We’ve got two young kids, Rocco and Valentina, and I’d like to send them to one school and keep them there.
I’m dreadful at Pilates. I’ve signed up for a course because it’s supposed to help with core strength and I find it really hard. I’m in a class with people who are mostly over 50, but all of them are better than me at most exercises. I’ve left my competitive side on the rugby pitch, though.
My earliest memory is being in the bath. That and playing on the swings.
It always hurts if you’re dropped. But that’s part and parcel of rugby. You can’t get hung up on that sort of thing. If you don’t get selected one time, it’s important to keep grafting away.
In my mid-20s I had nine or ten operations. Most were for minor things but the timing of them was frustrating. I’d often miss Six Nations games or autumn Internationals, and that puts you on the back foot in terms of selection. It’s also hard to have continuity of form. The longest I was out for was with a groin injury in 2007 – I couldn’t train for months and missed that year’s World Cup.
Rugby gave me a great social life at uni. I was involved in rugby before term even started. I went on a tour to South Africa and had the best time. It was mainly post-grads and it was good to mix with Kiwis, Australians, Americans and so on. Going from school, it was a bit of an eye-opener, but rugby players are similar throughout the game – there’s good banter and camaraderie.
I did eight three-hour exams in a week. My grade for my three-year degree in Theology and Philosophy at Oxford was based on those 24 hours of exams. That was tough.
I realised my cricket days were up when I was hit for six. I used to love cricket and tried to be a fast bowler, but then the ball was being hit back over my head, so I gave up at 16 or 17. I then just focused on rugby.
At uni I didn’t read anything for pleasure. It was all for my studies. So now I read books that I want to read. When I was selected for the 2003 World Cup, I bought a lot of Wilbur Smith books. He’s a great author.
I don’t have regrets. I’ve said silly things and done silly things, but there’s nothing that I’d want to get in a time machine for to go back and change.
I want to stay in shape. This year my back deteriorated and if I trained I’d be a write-off for a few days. And I wasn’t able to sprint, which wasn’t good for me as a winger! I’m going to find out what I can and can’t do in terms of my back, but I’d like to do cycling and go to the gym. I want to do stuff I enjoy rather than exercises in a weights room that are functional for rugby.
I’ve got Italian heritage. It dates back to the 17th or 18th century. My mum found out it was a painter who came here and married a British girl. I like to think he was an impressionist, but he was probably a painter and decorator! There’s also the Hotel Danieli in Venice, but I don’t think I can lay any claim to that.
There’s no hiding place on the wing. My most embarrassing moment came in a school game. I went to catch a box kick but ended up heading it into touch. The crowd laughed a lot at that.
I probably love chocolate too much. I’ve been more disciplined because I’ve needed to be with rugby, but you can’t go wrong with Dairy Milk – I usually buy one when I’m at a service station.
I represented England Schools, but I’ve always supported Scotland. We moved to England when I was two or three and I was schooled in Cheltenham, so there wasn’t another option than to play for England Schools. But when I started playing professionally, I wanted to go down the Scotland route and I’m pleased with how it turned out.
DID YOU KNOW?
Simon Danielli played for England Schools alongside Mike Tindall and Jonny Wilkinson.
This article appeared in the July 2012 issue of Rugby World Magazine.
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