Tom May Column
The unique James Simpson-Daniel
September 5, 2014
The unique James Simpson-Daniel © Getty Images
James Simpson-Daniel, a name that seems to have been in and around the professional game for a long time. During his 14 year playing career at Gloucester he amassed 272 games for the club, scoring 118 tries in the process. Of those 272 games he started 250. That's some going and there won't be many getting close to those stats as the game progresses. Imagine what he could have achieved if injury had not robbed him of so much playing time.
This week he retired due to an ankle injury that had seemingly been causing issues since he dislocated and fractured the joint in November last season. It was an injury that was to end the career of a player who has to be one of the most unlucky; shoulder, back and ankle injuries have plagued him. Injury has meant that he hasn't had anywhere near the game time he should have had - have a look at the playing stats and you will see how much he would have played. It makes 272 seem a small number.
We all remember that try for an England XV against the Barbarians as he ran across the field, lifting the ball into the air as if to pass it to the player dropping underneath him and then taking the ball again to round Jonah Lomu to score in corner. Not so bad for a 19-year-old in the early stages of a professional career. That was a sign of what was to come. Touches like that weren't saved for rare moments.
In today's technological age there is so much you can find, YouTube him, some of the stuff he has managed to achieve with a rugby ball is remarkable. You don't leave him with an inch - he could skin you in a phone box, I should know! The best option I found against him was to try and find someone else to defend.
A few years back in Newcastle we had games against Gloucester where he single handedly changed the game and there was nothing we could do about it. He seemed to give his side momentum, a new lease of life and belief and on top of that The Shed were always pretty pleased when he got his hands on the ball.
That Lomu try was at the start of his England career. He played 10 times for England but if I spoke to different players across the league who had played with or against him then the majority would say that he should have won many more and I completely agree. In my opinion if he had played for England 70 times then that would be somewhere near what he deserved. He was that good in my opinion.
© PA Photos
The only person I can liken him to would be Jason Robinson with perhaps a bit more about him. Simpson-Daniel had skills with the ball in hand too and not just with his feet and running skills. If only he had been given as much opportunity to play for England as Robinson - I think he could have added something very special to some of the teams we have seen over recent years.
Playing against him was a nightmare and I mean that in the most complimentary way possible. Wherever he played in the back line, you knew there was a big threat and maybe not the imposing physical threat we see so much of in today's game. Facing Simpson-Daniel was more terrifying than that. He could turn you inside out and quite easily embarrass you and that happened to some of the best players in the league, regularly. He would always be on the list of players to look out for and not that there was a huge amount you could do about it when he got the ball. The vast majority of the time he would get over the gain line - not bad for one of the small men - and if he had the opportunity, he would rip your defence to shreds.
He had pretty much all the weapons you need to be one of the best. He had a low centre of gravity, his balance was incredible. Look at some of the photos of him in action for Gloucester, he is virtually on his side but in full stride. Not easy to do unless it is completely natural, for him it was. He was up there with the quickest and didn't lose speed when stepping something not many can do.
In a game which is now dominated by huge men who produce eye watering collisions, Simpson-Daniel will be missed. Watching him run brought a smile to your face - unless it was you that he ran past - but there aren't many players who have the ability to weave their way to the try line like he did.
Congratulations on a fantastic career 'Sinbad', you can be very proud of what you achieved and the enjoyment you brought to so many fans watching you and even the ones playing against you. Enjoy whatever life brings next and if you achieve half of what you did in your rugby career you will be a happy man.
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