By Mark Stevens
Exeter Chiefs hooker Simon Alcott has today spoken of his disappointment after it was confirmed he will have to retire from the game with immediate effect due to a neck injury.
The 29-year-old forward, who joined the Chiefs in 2008 from Worthing, has made the decision following extensive consultations with a number of leading surgeons and specialists around the country.
Alcott’s decision to call time on his playing career – which has seen him feature 71 times for the Devon club, scoring ten tries in the process – has been “tough”, but it’s one he knows he has to make with regards to his long-term health.
“Obviously I’m very disappointed to have been forced to retire, but rugby now is so physical and you can’t really risk an injury like this. I’ve spoken to specialists and surgeons up and down the country and the advice is I have to retire immediately.
“Right now I feel a little frustrated because I would have liked to have played a bit more rugby than I have done. Had it not been for this injury, I felt I had a few more years still left in me, but talking to the medical people this is not something I can take a risk with. Being a front-row forward any kind of injury to the neck is not something you can choose to ignore.”
During his time at Sandy Park, however, Alcott has proved a popular figure not only amongst his fellow team-mates, but also the club’s support base who have grown used to seeing him flatten opponents with some of his notorious big-hits, as well as recalling his memorable try in Exeter’s Championship Play-Off victory against Bristol in 2010.
For the man himself, his five-year stint in Devon has been largely enjoyable. He added: “I’ve made a lot of close friends through the club, friends who I will probably stay in touch with forever. However, the advice now is for me to call it a day.
“Also the support, especially in the home games at Sandy Park, has been fantastic throughout my time at the club and it’s something I will always treasure.
“In sport you will always have highs and lows and the high points for me have obviously been playing in the Heineken Cup and the Premiership, plus the night we got promoted into the Premiership against Bristol.
“If I’m honest, playing in Heineken Cup was probably the highlight for me, simply because it’s one of the toughest competitions in club rugby. That was hugely enjoyable, especially playing that first game over in Ireland against Leinster, and also against Clermont who were just class and on another level.
“I can’t say there have been too many lows because I’ve enjoyed my time at the club and I’ve enjoyed playing. Obviously I would have liked to have played more, but some of that has been due to injuries and form, so there is a bit of frustration on that part. The Chiefs, though, are a special club and it’s disappointing that I have to leave this way.”
Alcott’s contribution has been praised by Chiefs head coach Rob Baxter, who said: “If you think what he’s achieved this season, he’s played some good Premiership rugby, started some big games of Heineken Cup rugby and he was absolutely outstanding away at Leinster. Over that weekend I think most people picked him out as the form hooker across Europe on that performance, he had half a dozen massive ball carries, some big tackles and had a fantastic game.
“Of course it’s very disappointing for him and very disappointing for the club because he’s hit the top of his performances this season. But you’ve got a lot of life to live outside of rugby and when you get medical advice, and he’s had one or two opinions on his neck and the advice is to stop, it’s the sensible thing to do.”
Baxter continued: “He’s a good guy, has been a good guy around the squad, has had to be very patient over the time he has been at the club and has developed steadily as a player, has worked hard, and because of that he broke through at one stage this season as our first-choice hooker.
“He’s gone out at the top, performing very well. It’s very disappointing for him and from our perspective because we’ve enjoyed working with him.
“He’s given it a good go and has had a bit of everything in his time at Exeter. He’s had a bit of time injured, a bit of time biding his time trying to break into the first team but he’s also had some time when he’s performed at the highest level for us.
“He’ll move on with our best wishes for the future. Hopefully he can stay in the area, get settled and find a new future outside of rugby.”