Rugby union has lost Lewis Moody as a player but the game will be glad to learn that it may not have lost the man they call "Mad Dog" altogether. As he sets out on a life which for the first time since he was five years old will not involve putting his head where many devils would fear to tread, the former England captain revealed he is set to try his hand at coaching.
A shoulder injury forced the 33-year-old to announce his retirement yesterday. Having bid farewell from international rugby last October, the openside flanker lasted just four more months with Bath. Moody, a lifelong Leicester fan who enjoyed such success at Welford Road before leaving for the West Country in 2010, had hoped to add to a collection of silverware which includes a World Cup winner's medal, two Heineken Cups and seven Premiership titles. But as he told The Independent yesterday: "It was not to be. I do feel a bit of a failure as my body finally won. I know that's not the case, but I would love to help Bath in another capacity."
Perhaps this will involve coaching, although Moody stressed he would not be keen on a fast-track to any hotseat. "I'd start from low down and work my way up to see whether I enjoyed it and have what it takes to be a good coach," he said. "I've done a bit of coaching kids in schools and part of me knows I'll crave to still be a part of the game I've played all my life. I have a love for rugby that will never disappear. I think it's important to give back and impart knowledge that the guys might find useful and help them with their careers."
The guys would be wise to listen. Moody won 71 caps for England and five caps for the Lions in a 16-year career which saw him emerge as one of rugby's most combative loose forwards. He captained his country on 11 occasions, most recently in the World Cup in New Zealand.
England's tournament was overshadowed by controversy off the pitch, which featured players caught up in drinking escapades. Moody, himself, was not involved but as the captain still came in for criticism. "I was frustrated that we didn't play anywhere near as well as we could have in that World Cup," he said. "The rest of what went on is consigned to history and people will have their interpretations of it. But the fact is we could have and should have played better, and that will always annoy me. Yet, looking back over my career, I don't have many regrets."
Neither should he. The tributes which flooded in following Moody's announcement confirmed the high regard in which he is held. Sir Ian McGeechan, the Bath director of rugby, said: "Lewis was everything any coach would want from a back-row forward," while Damian Hopley, the chief executive of the Rugby Players Association, added: "Lewis has been one of the great servants of rugby in England over a magnificent career in which he lifted every major trophy in domestic, European and international rugby."
Yet the best line came from his former team-mate, and England coach, Martin Johnson: "Whenever I think back about playing with Lewis it always brings a smile to my face," said Johnson. "He had a complete disregard for his physical well-being."
Yet eventually, Moody, with a wife and two young children, was obliged to show some regard. "I've had this shoulder problem since last November and thought I'd get over it as I always have with injuries. But then I had setback after setback," said Moody. "I saw a specialist, took all the advice and on the weekend sat down with Annie [his wife] and came to an unavoidable decision that my body was saying enough is enough. This injury was one I wasn't coming back from. I'm disappointed because I never wanted an injury to retire me. But then, I was very lucky with injuries."
Added Moody: "Since I've made the decision, I get waves when it hits me: 'that's it, I won't step on to a pitch to play a game of rugby again.' I've been playing since I was five with the Bracknell minis and been a professional since I was 18. Now it's over. That won't dawn on me until the end of the season, because I will be rehabbing until then to get my shoulder sorted. This time, however, it'll be different."
A few outside-halves will doubtless say "thank goodness for that", but English rugby will sorely miss Moody. As Johnson noted, it was his courage which set him apart. "I played the way I did because I always thought I was doing it for the benefit of my team and my mates around me," said Moody. "People might think I'm mad, but I'll miss all those tackles, all that throwing myself on the floor, because I loved feeling I was contributing to the cause.
"It's funny, because people always ask about winning the World Cup final in 2003 but the 2007 World Cup holds just as many happy memories for me, if not more. The times I most enjoyed in my career were when in the dressing rom after we had won a game nobody had given us a chance in. That was what it was like in France in '07. The euphoria in conquering adversity and the sense of accomplishment of getting to the final was huge. We were written off but came within a blade of grass, and a try for Mark Cueto, from doing it."
Moody is an emotional figure who understands there will difficult moments ahead. "I know that the feeling of being a player cannot be replicated," he said."I've talked to guys who've retired and they've confirmed it. But you have to move on and find other avenues to channel that focus. There are so many options open to me: the media, motivational speaking for businesses, continuing to work closely with businesses that I am already a director of and sponsors as well as all of the charity work which I can now donate more time to. But I will have a go at coaching. It'll be daunting, but exciting as well. And yes, it will probably be a lot healthier."
Moody news: Lewis factfile
Born 12 June 1978, Ascot
England (71 caps, 45 points)
Debut v Canada (away) June 2001, in a 22-10 victory.
First tries v Romania (home), November 2001, in a 134-0 victory.
Six Nations Won in 2003.
Featured in all of England's games in 2003 victory in Australia. Replaced Richard Hill in final against the host nation, winning the line-out which led to Jonny Wilkinson's winning drop goal. Also featured in every match in 2007 and led the side in 2011. Retired from international duty in November.
British & Irish Lions
Toured New Zealand in 2005, playing twice and scoring one try as the All Blacks whitewashed the tourists.
1996-2010 Leicester Tigers. Was their youngest player at 18. Won seven Premiership titles and two Heineken Cups, making 223 appearances and scoring 165 points.
2010-12 Bath. Played just 13 games.
A few of my favourite things...
My favourite win: Australia 20 England 21 (Sydney, June 2010)
Being captain of just the third England team to win in Australia in 125 years will always mean so much. We were big outsiders but came through as the likes of Ben Foden, Chris Ashton, Courtney Lawes and Dan Cole announced their international arrival.
My favourite opponent: Richie McCaw (New Zealand)
He was the openside flanker I most liked to line up against. The best in the world by a mile, the All Black took flanking to a new level. We had some great players over the years and he brought the best out of me. He'll always have my respect.
Favourite venue: Twickenham
Welford Road meant a lot to me and I will never forget running out on debut as an 18-year-old. Team-mates like Rory Underwood, who scored two tries that day, were my idols. But there's something special about Twickenham. And if you don't know why, you're not English or a rugby fan.
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