From the start I loved rugby. I was four when I first headed to Middlesbrough RFC for mini rugby, following my older brother, Chris, there. In the garden I was forced into the outside-half spot. I had no choice really, as Chris was a scrum-half so he insisted on firing countless passes at me. When I was eight we decided that if we were going to play for England together one of us had to move from the No 9 shirt.
Two for the price of one was the way I got into Sedbergh School. My parents couldn’t afford to send either myself or Chris to a boarding school like that, but Chris was offered an assisted place because of his rugby. He told the headmaster he had a younger brother and that if he wanted him he had to take the both of us, so my chance to start my rugby career came along because of Chris.
I was an average player just holding my place when I played for the Sedbergh first team a year young, but then I decided to run the ball and get some confidence.
I was lucky to come under the coaching of Neil Rollings at Sedbergh. I remember Chris telling me to watch and listen very closely to everything that Neil said, and he was right.
A non-kicking fly-half is how I went into my final year at Sedbergh and Phil Dowson (now at Northampton) was my captain. We had a great time running it from our own 22 and scoring tries, all under Neil’s leadership. It’s no surprise I get on with coaches like Brian Ashton and Tosh Askew because they’re on the same wavelength as Neil.
I had no idea I could make it in the game until that final year. I played for Yorkshire, the North and England at age-group level.
A few clubs were at a North of England match against the Midlands at Loughborough and spoke to me about signing for them, but I quickly decided on life in the West Country, signing for Gloucester a few months before I left school. Audley Lumsden was the scout for them and Philippe Saint-André the coach when I made the decision to sign.
A one-club man is unusual in the professional era, but since walking through the gates at Kingsholm I’ve loved the place and the people. When I was at school I didn’t think you could have a whole city devoted to rugby, but we have it here. The fans at Gloucester are some of the most passionate you’ll find and I love that. They live and breathe rugby.
Injuries haven’t been as bad for me as most people think but it’s been their timing that has killed me. I’ve picked up random injuries at the wrong time, although I haven’t had that for a while. At the moment every time I flick on teletext I seem to see another player out for three months.
I take rejection pretty hard when I don’t make squads and tend to be my own worst critic. I take it better now, but that doesn’t mean I don’t care. Phil Vickery has been a constant source of good advice. He told me never to look at the negatives and the ‘what ifs’. You can’t live your life that way.
I’ve made some incredible friendships through rugby. I was best man for Josh Frape and Nick Southern (both ex-Gloucester players). Mike Tindall and Nicky Robinson are godparents to my son, George, and I was an usher at Phil Vickery’s wedding.
‘Are you retiring?’ is what most people say to me when I tell them I’m having a benefit year, but I’m only 28 and in my 11th season at the club.
Horse racing is a real passion of mine off the field. I’m president of the 18-24 Club at Cheltenham, set up to attract young people to racing, and I own a horse with Mike Tindall and Nicky Robinson called Monbeg Dude. In November I kicked off my testimonial year (sinbadsbenefityear.bigbrainevents.co.uk) with the staging of the Sinbad Testimonial Chase at Cheltenham.
Did you know? James has his older brother, Chris, to thank for his nickname ‘Sinbad’. Chris was called Sinbad after the character in TV soap Brookside and the moniker was then passed down to the Gloucester man.
Name: James Simpson-Daniel
Age: 28 (30 May 1982)
This article appeared in the February 2011 issue of Rugby World Magazine.
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