Former Clubs: Oxford University, Yorkshire Carnegie, Harlequins, Newcastle Falcons
Representative honours: England Sevens
Sam, you were with Newcastle Falcons in the Premiership last season. Why did you decide to leave full-time rugby?
Playing professional rugby was my boyhood dream, so deciding to leave on my own terms was not a decision I took lightly. The short answer is that I couldn't see myself rising up the pecking order at Newcastle anytime soon. The long answer includes considerations such as life-fulfilment as a non-starter, a second career as a solicitor at Bird & Bird waiting in the wings, and a girlfriend in London.
I knew that my transition away from the pro game would be far tougher if I went cold turkey, so I looked at several London-based clubs in National 1 and the Championship. I came down to College Meadow to watch the last home game of the season, spoke with Gavin and Sam, and was totally sold on the club's ambition. It was the opportunity to contribute towards building something special here, that appealed to me most.
Falcons Director of Rugby Dean Richards described you as ‘an exceptional player’. What are your strengths?
Right-foot step, left-hand tuck, and occasional pirouette!
You've spent some time in the England Sevens set-up. How did you find the transition from 15s to 7s and back again?
I transferred across to the Sevens set-up after my first professional contract, which was with Yorkshire Carnegie. It was the Olympic year, and I had hoped to put my hand up for that before returning to 15s. Unfortunately, it proved too tough a task. I underestimated just how difficult the transition would be. The two codes are miles apart now and even some big names from 15s, like Quade Cooper etc, struggled to make the grade.
The regular stars on the Sevens circuit deserve far more respect than they get, I think. Hats off to them, playing at that speed and under such incredible fatigue.
Thereafter, I was lucky enough to get an opportunity to play for Harlequins, making my Premiership debut, and later scoring my first Premiership try. I felt far more comfortable being back in the 15s game, but undoubtedly benefited from a vastly improved skill-set, and a better ability to see and exploit space - as a result of my stint working under Simon Amor (England Sevens coach).
Who has been the biggest influence on your career so far?
I'd have to say my coach at Oxford University, James Wade. He certainly made the most of my abilities there, getting the best out of me. I'm sure things would have been very different for me if we hadn't crossed paths.
What has been the high point of your career so far?
I'm proud of what we achieved at Newcastle Falcons last season. On a shoe-string budget, we managed our highest Premiership finish since the early 00s. I was very pleased to be able to contribute, even if only in a small way. I'm sure they'll go on to better that result this season, and I really hope they do.
How difficult is it to make the transition from full-time rugby professional in the Premiership to part-time player in National One?
I think the main difficulty I'll have is with managing the expectations I'm used to having of myself and the players around me. I'm here because I've decided to prioritise a non-rugby career. I'll have a very time-consuming and stressful course to complete this season, which will mean that I won't be able to find anywhere near as much time to practise my skills, maintain my fitness or get in the gym. The same is true of everyone else in the squad. I think the challenge, therefore, is to stay mentally focussed to minimise the impact of this lost time.
Your thoughts on what you have experienced at Elthamians so far?
We're very well looked after as a playing group: boots and kit, a 40-man pre-season trip to Ireland (which tops a trip to Hull with Falcons last season!), post-training meals and supplements. I could go on. I'm certainly not missing the comforts of the professional environment, because things aren't too different here.
Everyone involved with the club seems lovely, and adds value to what we're trying to achieve. I just hope I can do the same!
Finally Sam, what are your aims for the season?
I'd like us to finish in the top six. I think that would be a fair reflection of the extent of the investment in the squad and playing environment, whilst also taking into consideration our newly promoted status, and how new the squad is.
Updated 12:49 - 10 Oct 2017 by Jon Edwards