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Simon Shaw MBE - UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL

by PREETI VIRDEE
October 2009

photos by Elizabeth Whalley

SIMON Shaw - a name that is renowned across the rugby world as he towers over most mere mortals at 6’8”…it appears however, he was once 6’9”; 20 years of being slapped down in the tunnel and the scrum may have stolen from him an inch in height, but he has not lost any of his resolve to be the best lock the world has seen despite being over-shadowed by the legendary Martin Johnson for much of his career.

Simon is experiencing a glittering career having represented England at most levels, featured in two World Cups, three British & Irish Lions tours, and has even played for the revered invitational side, Barbarians. But it is a career which has had it’s rollercoaster moments; Simon may have a 2003 World Cup Winner’s Medal, but he did not play one single minute of rugby whilst in Australia. Off the back of a European Championship win he was red carded against New Zealand three weeks later – it’s been one hell of a ride!

Simon, known as Shawsey to his friends and team mates, was born in Kenya in 1973, and grew up with his sister Sarah enjoying the splendours of the expat life for his first nine years in leafy Lavington, an exclusive suburb of Nairobi, until his father moved the family back to England; but a year later itchy feet meant they were swiftly moved away again to Spain. It wasn’t until he came back to London in 1988 that rugby took over from his love of swimming, football, tennis and basketball; the latter being the obvious choice when one is so extraordinarily tall. It was the social scene that was his main attraction to begin with - like most rugby players, girls and drinking were the focus of any Saturday evening having knocked six bells out of his opponents for 80 minutes or so.

Despite rugby not discovering him until he was 15, it wasn’t until 1995 at the age of 22 when Simon suffered a double dislocated fracture of the ankle that he realised that rugby was to define his life; it was at that moment that he realised this could possibly be the end of his career. Watching games after this time was gut wrenching - not knowing whether he’d ever be running out on the paddock again. This set back is what drove him to become the Simon Shaw we know and love today.

Like a number of the rugby elite in the England set up today (most famously Martin Johnson CBE and Sir Clive Woodward’) the Southern Hemisphere played a pivotal role in Simon’s life. At the tender of 16, he was scouted by a second row player from the Dunedin Pirates during a Surrey Cup tie, and at the end of the school year was shipped off to New Zealand to learn about life, ladies and the intense rugby culture that was so different from the more laid back approach in Blighty.

England and home comforts beckoned after a year, and next came Bristol University – though a degree was never quite acquired; many shenanigans were had whilst Simon was surrounded by ‘little legs’ Kyran Bracken MBE- the Dancing On Ice star, and England and British Lions hooker, ‘not the brightest tool in the box’ Ronnie Regan (aka Mark Regan MBE). The ‘rat pack’ dabbled with greyhounds, ladies, drinking, and much more rugby…obviously there was a pattern forming here. Simon’s running rugby style got him the England call, and soon after, as he had predicted many years earlier, the sport became professional and rugby became a vocation that was handsomely rewarded.

Simon spent seven formidable years with Bristol RFC, but eventually succumbed to the bright lights of the big city. London Wasps made him an offer he could not refuse, and so far it’s been twelve years and counting, contracted to the club until the end of the 2010-11 season. The rumours of a move to South Africa seem a tad suspicious as Simon has just moved his expectant wife Jane and three children into a picturesque house with stunning views by the Thames to the home of rugby, Twickenham.

Simon has no rugby idols as he did not grow up watching rugby, but the passion and love of sport of the celebrated Olympian, Daley Thompson inspired him to give his all and be the best. Simon’s most memorable moment in his own playing career so far is the Heineken Cup semi final in 2004. Wasps were trailing by 10 points with 10 minutes to go, but the rugby gods were smiling and following the sin binning of both Donncha O'Callaghan and Rob Henderson, the boys in black and gold capitalised on their two man advantage long enough for an Alex King penalty, and tries from Tom Voyce and the Trevor Leota, stunning the 48,000 strong crowd and dashing Munster’s hopes of European Cup victory. And of course as history narrates, Wasps won their first Heineken Cup trophy at Twickenham four weeks later at Twickenham beating Toulouse 27-20 on another memorable afternoon where Rob Howley saved the day with a glorious try in the 79th minute of the game.

When asked of any hidden talents Simon has other than messing around with an odd shaped ball, surprisingly the answer was art; it all could have been so different if he’d followed his ambition and gone to Art College. But the thought of having to spend an extra year doing a foundation course extending his university career to 4 years was too much to cope with since rugby was becoming an important factor in the teenager’s life. However this has not stopped Simon from creating caricatures of infamous rugby coaches, though most of these have conveniently disappeared so as not to get caught out doodling when he is bored in club meetings.

Outside of rugby, Simon is a pretty understated and laid-back character. Though he got up to much mischief in his younger years, he is now a real family man. With his fourth child on the way, and a metatarsal injury that has temporarily put the brakes on representing his club, Simon is settling in very nicely to his new surroundings and discovering the delights of real suburbia. Eating out features quite heavily on the weekly agenda – he will be reviewing a delightful local French bistro for Rugby Unplugged next month – and relaxing with Jane and the kids, when he’s not getting into hot water with the his ex-coaches over controversies in his new biography. His music taste is dependent on his mood, but does have a penchant for Pink.

Shawsey professes not to have many bad habits, except biting his nails which he stopped over the summer, but proceeded to irritate his wife so much by constantly cleaning them that biting was reverted to. His delightful sense of humour is fuelled by wacky comedies starring Peter Sellers, Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder. Literature is not high on the agenda, though his favourite book at the moment is “The Hard Yards: My Story”, which clearly illustrates his love of London and Sydney, two cities he would have his dream homes; a Georgian townhouse off Marylebone High Street and modern sea-front pad with a sprawling garden and pool down under.

This gentle giant is a bit of a romantic, he married his beautiful Antipodean wife in Tuscany, a place that encompasses all the elements of his ideal holiday; culture, activity, sunshine and beach. He still enjoys a night out with the boys, and can occasionally be caught partaking in his other great talent – disco dancing!

This dovetails perfectly with his vision of the ultimate party which would be a masquerade ball with delectable fayre and the best wines, though the mask may not be too useful in disguising Simon as his height may just give him away. Being the size he is, well-fitting clothes are not that easy to come by, so his party outfit would no doubt be tailored by his favourite Italian designer, Ermenegildo Zegna.

If he could invite just four people to a fantasy dinner, the guests would be Oscar-winning thespian Robert de Niro, acclaimed comedian Billy Connolly, ‘girl kissing’ musician Katy Perry and the infamous lead singer of Aerosmith, Steven Tyler. Read what you will into his choice.

The words that have inspired Simon the most are “Yesterday is the past, tomorrow is the future. Today’s a gift, that’s why they call it the present.” Well he’s not done yet, and I do believe that he will one day far in the future be remembered as he hopes he would be, “a very nice bloke”.

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Simon Shaw Images: click on image for full size shot.