HE was a Kingsholm favourite for 14 years and won many fans from well beyond the shadow of Gloucester Cathedral with his magical, instinctive skills. James Simpson-Daniel was forced to call time on his rugby career this month when the last in a long, long line of injuries refused to heal. We asked him to pick out his five favourite memories – and if he can afford to leave out scoring a hat-trick in the 2002 Hong Kong Sevens final, you know his choices reflect his one-club loyalty.
My first choice is my home debut at Kingsholm against Rotherham (March 2001). I came off the bench and scored a try. I got the ball on the left-hand side about 40 metres out and ran in and scored. That moment is something I will never forget. I trotted back and the Shed were going mad and I thought ‘gosh, they are going mad for me.’
Also in that first match I got my head taken off by the opposing centre – I think it was Mike Umaga – and I stood back up with the taste of blood in my mouth and the whole pack piled into him. There was an element of feeling looked after and part of the family.
Head-to-head with Jonah
I remember my first senior match for England against the Barbarians (May 2002) like it was yesterday. Although I had played through the England age groups, nothing compared to that.
I knew I was playing against Jonah Lomu and only three years before that I had been playing Jonah Lomu Rugby on the computer with my brothers at home! To know I was going up against him – well, I was terrified. On the day it went reasonably well and that whole week is something I will remember.
Reasonably well? Take a look at this link to judge for yourself.
In white v the All Blacks
My first cap was against New Zealand (November 2002). It was a re-match with Jonah and thankfully we won it (31-28). It was amazing, to have my debut against the All Blacks and it was gob-smacking to go and beat them.
That England team had a self-belief that we could beat them, but in reality it is something else. The whole thing – facing the haka – was pretty incredible.
Charlie Hodgson and I were the new young lads in the team then. I remember going around with him, but the senior players were very good with us. I was very quiet and I was raised at school to respect my elders massively, but they were all so good to me. Johnno would have the odd word and ask if I was alright and Clive was great.
Getting voted Player of the Year in the Premiership Awards (in 2007-08) is another career highlight. That was a nice thing for me. It had been a good season and to get that recognition from people within the game was a real high point for me.
The final one is another one that is quite in-house in Gloucester terms. It is jogging round at Kingsholm before kick-off and hearing the roar from the Shed. Even talking about it, the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. It happens every time. That is something I will miss tremendously and never forget.
It shows how much the jersey means to the crowd and how much that has got to be respected by you as players. It’s a big thing.