Former England and Lions lock Simon Shaw tells Rugby World what he's been up to since retiring in 2013 – and recalls the one match that had him leaping for joy
From his giant 6ft 8in frame to his 23-year first-class rugby career, Simon Shaw never does things by halves. When the former England and Lions lock hung up his boots in 2013, he had cemented his reputation as one of the finest forwards of the professional era.
Seventy-five Test caps, including two for the Lions in 2009, was only part of the story; he won ten trophies for Wasps during a golden age for the club and later bowed out as a European champion with Toulon.
England’s second-oldest international player (38 years 37 days at RWC 2011) and the third-oldest Test Lion (35 years 306 days), Shaw was also the first player to make 200 English Premiership appearances.
Rugby World caught up with the now 44-year-old Shaw to see what he’s been up to since retiring as a player…
“After I finished, I lucked on a job straightaway with a hotel group called Karma Resorts. I used to look after their philanthropic arm,” he says. “I was in charge of their acquisitions, so I’d be running around Europe in the main trying to find new opportunities, such as potential conversions like castles.
“It was good fun for a while but being my height and weight, and not fitting in beds and plane seats, it became a bit arduous after a while. It was never a joy travelling.
“I made the decision to break away from that, for health reasons as much as anything. I had a permanent cold as a result of the air conditioning on flights, sleepless nights and all that sort of stuff, so I thought it wasn’t for me long term. But it gave me a great opportunity to work in a different environment.
“At the same time running alongside that, I had an events company and still do called Set Piece Events. We run match-day hospitality, travel packages, dinners and various other things. Coupled with that I had a pub called Stokes & Moncrieff, which was our match-day venue really.
“We got rid of it because other opportunities came up. The pub business is very tough and while it worked fabulously well on match days, it was a really tough environment to keep the finger on during the rest of the year. You have to keep plugging away, you have to be on site working tirelessly to generate trade, and as I live in France it’s a pretty tricky proposition.”
Shaw’s main focus now is a new restaurant opposite Twickenham station that opened in September. Called M Bar & Grill, it allows him to use the skills he acquired during his years as a pub owner.
“I moved towards partnering with M Restaurants and Martin Williams in particular, who’s a very shrewd operator in the restaurant market. He looks after the business side and I look after the hospitality side, certainly for this particular venue.
“It’s a wonderful location. At first I was sceptical because Twickenham doesn’t really have anything of its like, but the local residents have really embraced it. I think it will turn into a destination restaurant for the wider area because of the quality of the food and the décor.
“It’s directly opposite the station so on a match day you walk out of your train, which is how 90% of people get to Twickenham, and you’re there. After the game you can enjoy a cocktail and look out at everyone squeezing themselves silly trying to get a train while you wait for the crowd to subside.
“We’ve got the only wagyu beef that’s produced in the UK, that’s exclusive to us. There’s a great many USPs but the thing that stands out is the quality of the food. Mike Reid, the executive chef, is an absolute genius in the kitchen.
“As a group we wanted to expand from the two restaurants we have in Victoria and Threadneedle Street; they’re the upper high end of the restaurant industry and this is a scaled-down version. We purposely called it M Bar and Grill so it won’t scare away any punters who feel it might be out of their price range.
“It’s a fantastic addition and the plan was not just this venue but to roll out to two or three other localities in the London area. To do that we needed extra funding and we had an extraordinarily successful crowdfunding launch where we managed to raise a lot more than we ever expected to. So those plans are going really well.”
With four Premiership titles, three European crowns and numerous World Cups and Lions tours on his CV, Shaw could be excused struggling to pin down a favourite memory from his rugby career. But one match stands out.
“It’s funny, when Jonny Wilkinson lifted the cup in his final season, it was the first time you ever saw absolute joy on Jonny’s face. Everyone knows what Jonny’s like and that was the moment when you realised he’s been waiting for this his whole career. Which is extraordinary when you think what he’s achieved.
“And I had a very similar experience when we beat Leicester (39-14) at Twickenham in the 2005 Premiership final. It was Neil Back’s last game, Martin Johnson’s last game, and Leicester were out-and-out favourites. The whole story had been told – this is their swansong, this is their last game where they’re going to go out on top. And we’d been thrashed by them at Welford Road just two weeks before (45-10).
“It’s weird but all the other finals… I’m not very expressive with my emotions but this was the one time where I was fist-pumping and jumping up and down.”
Shaw racked up hundreds of matches in the engine room, stretching back to the amateur days when he played for Bristol and, at 17, enjoyed a stint in New Zealand. If you suspect he’d jump at any opportunities for a run-out, think again – he’s put that part of his life to bed.
“I played in one game in 2013. We played Australia at the Stoop, to mark the ten-year anniversary of England’s World Cup win,” he explains.
“It was a real realisation for me. It was the year I retired, so it wasn’t as if I had bits of me falling off, but at the first kick-off Martin Corry got upended and I just thought, ‘I’ve managed to survive 23 years without too many battle scars, I’ve got four young kids and I want to play sports with them. If I do something on this pitch or any other day, I’d really regret it.
“A lot of people say ‘That’s wrong, why don’t you play club rugby, you should be giving something back’, but I think after 23 years I pretty much gave enough.
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“I don’t have any regrets in not playing. Obviously I want to support the charities and I try to do that as best I can outside playing. I compete in one tournament a year that is on snow, which arguably should be softer landings and less impact.
“I got roped into that by Serge Betsen. It’s in France and it’s called the Six Stations and runs alongside the Six Nations. We go to six different ski stations over six nights and play six-a-side rugby in the snow on a half-sized pitch.
“So it’s not hellishly hard work, although the competition tends to mount towards the final, which I’ve only been in once thankfully! I generally try to join the team that’s least likely to get further in the tournament. So I do that but mainly because I adore skiing now so it just gives me an opportunity to ski for a week with a bunch of mates, and raise money for charity at the same time.”
Shaw still calls Toulon home, generally spending long weekends there after doing a three- or four-day week in London. He’s not really one for watching rugby and at the time we spoke to him had yet to visit the Ricoh Arena to watch his old team Wasps.
“I probably went to three Toulon matches last year. If I have clients coming out who want to watch a game I’ll entertain them and give them the best weekend they could have.
“At Wasps I loved playing rugby but I’m not a good watcher, I get very tense and aggressive. A guy came up to me recently and said, ‘I had the displeasure of sitting next to you at the Lions’ first Test in Australia.’
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‘What do you mean?’ I said.
‘Well, you couldn’t stop moving. You were acting out the game as you sat in your seat!’”