I remember playing for Saracens against Bath in 2001. It was a freezing, icy Sunday in Watford and the game wasn't much better. The feeling of reaching the hot showers being the highlight of the afternoon, a quiet night and perhaps even some foreign cuisine was all that was on the cards. Rock 'n' roll, I thought.
Then, while scoffing our post-match slop together, the Bath boys suggested skipping the team bus home and sticking around for a few pints. Not wanting to be rude, I immediately scrapped all plans of Chinese food, called the beautiful girl I'd arranged to serve it to me and told her I was washing my hair, and dug out a suitably tight T-shirt from my "just in case" emergency bag – every man should carry one.
Roughly three minutes after suggesting the idea, Olly Barkley was riding shotgun with me as we snaked our way to London on the lookout for somewhere busy. David Barnes was present, too, and no sooner had we stepped into the bar than his wisdom came to the fore: "It's Sunday, lads, pubs shut early, we'd better get stuck in." Now that's experience.
We only had a few hours to enjoy ourselves that night but we had such a blinder that we still talk about it to this day. My evening was very nearly ruined, though, by one Jason Leonard. He was propping up the (entire) bar as I emerged from the mêlée and suggested we share a drink. Three pints (and about 12 minutes) later I was flagging. He wasn't, and at this point I had not yet realised that he was seeing off two pints for every one I was.
It was then that Barnes, the wise old owl of the group, came to my rescue. He noticed what was happening and pulled me away: "Mate, don't ever drink with Jase, you won't make it home." Once again, his worldliness had proved invaluable.
Things seem to have changed a bit these days. Fear not, the modern rugby player hasn't stopped enjoying himself, but the social side of the game is not what it was. Ironically, I believe this to be down to the game itself. There is simply less room for blokes who put 20 pints into their bodies each week. There will always be some, of course, but most of us can't manage it. The games and training are hard enough without carrying a hangover and the extra weight with which alcohol (and, let's face it, the obligatory kebab) loves to line the hips.
This was evident last Saturday up at Welford Road. Being a prop (and therefore more tired than everyone else), it takes me a while to get out of the bath and into my jeans, but by the time I reached the dining area it was time to get on the bus. I had just enough time to grab some highly nutritious apple crumble and whip through a family-information-only chat with my old mate and sparring partner George Chuter. We chewed the fat for what seemed like a nanosecond and then went our separate ways.
On my way out I saw Martin Castrogiovanni and, much as I would like to get to know him better, only had time for a quick and respectful handshake and exchange of "well-played" nods. Admittedly, there is every chance he was not so disappointed to see me leave but at least he faked it, which is both thoughtful and good for the self-esteem.
It is a sad day when a rugby player chooses Saturday night television over a night on the tiles but, with the physical requirements of the game having rocketed to a level surely nobody could have predicted, it is a day that has arrived for us all.
I don't want to go boozing every weekend – I can't – and I don't want to wake up in a town far away the day after every away match. But I think we all ought to make the effort a bit more regularly. I will begin this evening, after our game at Harlequins. I have told the wife I shan't be home until Monday as I am spending the evening with two former Saracens mates, Jonny Dawson and Matt Cairns.
It won't be crazy. I have a baby, Dawson has a proper job and Cairns is old before his time, but we will sit and sip as we relive old times and look to the future. Now, to Google; must find a pub that's showing The X Factor.