Rugby Union: Chilcott ready to bow out

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NOT wishing to turn into a pumpkin, the most instantly recognisable figure (stout and squat) in English rugby yesterday announced his retirement from the game in November, when he departs for a Christmas season in Cinderella.

During his 14-match England career lasting from 1984 to 1989, Gareth Chilcott was known to dress up in a tutu for photo- opportunity purposes, though pantomime dame rather than ballerina would be more in keeping with the barrel chest and 17 stones and beyond with which he has graced the Bath front row over 17 years and 364 games.

In fact Chilcott, 36, will again play a character called the Broker's Man at the Mayflower Theatre, Southampton, packing down with Gloria Hunniford and Brian Conley. It is the role which caused him to take a midwinter break last season while appearing at Bath's Theatre Royal, and this time he feels it would be inappropriate to seek to recapture his place at prop afterwards.

'I planned to retire at the end of the season anyway, but Bath have so many good young props that it would be unfair for me to come back in the middle of the season,' Chilcott said yesterday.

Indeed, with Victor Ubogu already an international, and the fledgling South-West props John Mallett and Darren Crompton being joined at the club by the England Under-21 international Chris Clark once Clark completes his rugby commitments at Oxford University, Bath should now be ready to do without him. On Monday, the occasional thespian and television rugby pundit was appointed Bath's chief fund-raiser.

Chilcott has metamorphosed from a self-confessed rugby delinquent - he was sent off four times, his suspensions including one of a year (reduced on appeal) in 1981 for kicking the England No 8 Bob Hesford, and was one of four England players suspended after the brawl against Wales in 1987 - into a rogue of the more lovable kind as well as a deeply respected senior player.

His last dismissal was for throwing a punch when Bath played at Gloucester four years ago, though Chilcott protested his misfortune because he missed. Since then his conduct has been almost irreproachable, prompting this piece of valedictory philosophy. 'As you get older, you get a bit mellower.'