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Former England scrumhalf Joe Simpson retires

By Ian Cameron
(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Former England scrumhalf Joe Simpson has retired from professional rugby at the age of 34 – announcing the decision on the Sale Sharks website.

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Sharks signed Simpson on a short-term contract ahead of the 2022/23 Gallagher Premiership season and made six appearances for the club.

The former Wasps and Gloucester man, who has one England cap and was part of his country’s squad for the 2011 World Cup, made almost 250 appearances for Wasps after graduating from their academy in 2008, before joining Gloucester in 2019.

“My debut was on a cold rainy night at The Stoop against Harlequins. We were going through a bit of a shaky run so I got the opportunity to play, and I just remember being a bit of a headless chicken.

“I was just getting the ball and running as fast as I could, I managed to get a try, but we lost. That moment has stuck with me for some time, and I am sure it will stick with me for many more years to come

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“It was a fantastic time to join Wasps, we were the reigning English champions and the European champions the year before that. We were on a run of a having won seven trophies in six years.

“It was a ridiculous squad, full of internationals, full of legends, full of my idols and heroes. As a fresh faced 18-year-old out of school, training and playing with those legends was eye-opening. Seeing the way they trained and conducted themselves and the ethos they had was incredible, and it was a very fast learning curve.

“I remember being in an ice bath with Lawrence Dallaglio, and I tried to get out and he just put his arm on me and said, ‘not yet’ and I stayed in for what felt like a lifetime because he was a World Cup winner and my hero.

“I used to drive France international Serge Betsen to the games because he only had one car and his wife and kids would come up later. I would be sat there driving with Serge Betsen sat next to me, it was so bizarre.

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“I had no real ambition to be a rugby player growing up. I was lucky enough to play in two fantastic teams at school with St Benedict’s and at club with Richmond. I never thought I was the best rugby player, and I didn’t know rugby was a career opportunity. It became a possibility at 17 when I was offered a professional contract and it became apparent that I could be a professional rugby player and things started kicking on and I ran with it.

“The biggest things I will take away from rugby are the bonds I have made with people. The world of rugby is a very special place, you put your body on the line and you make sacrifices, and it creates a thicker, deeper bond than you can make anywhere else. Through adversity, pain, suffering, sacrifice you become very close.

“I have been lucky to play all over the world; in Toulon, in Toulouse, at night in packed out stadiums, that is when you realise how far you have come. I have played in a Premiership final with Wasps. That was probably the closest team I have played in, that was my team. Being out there on the pitch and you look around and see your closest friends, that is very special.

“I am also enormously proud of my England appearance. I think I actually took it for granted at the time, I didn’t fully appreciate how big it was. Everything came quickly to me and it took time to take a step back and realise what I had achieved. To be in that England squad with Jonny Wilkinson and coached by Martin Johnson was a phenomenal achievement and I wish we could have gone further. I still get goosebumps now remembering that I have played for England. It’s my proudest achievement of my career.”

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Simpson said that his time in Sale Sharks was a fitting end

“It has also been a fitting end to come full circle and play with some of my closest friends in Simon McIntyre and Tommy Taylor, who I played with in the Premiership final at Wasps.

“The thing I will miss most about rugby is the day-to-day, coming in sore and tired when it’s cold or raining. The boys get around each other and you get through it together. That team atmosphere and friendship is hard to replace, and I will sorely miss it. That gap will forever be a part of my life.”

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