Simon Cross, Edinburgh Rugby’s club captain during much of his eight years at Murrayfield, is to retire at the end of the season.
Flank forward Cross, 29, has been troubled by knee injuries over the last couple of years, but such is his passion for the sport and Scottish rugby in general, that he is determined to forge a new career in the game in Scotland.
"My life has been in rugby and I’ve loved the time I have spent at Edinburgh. I’ve been very proud to be part of the Edinburgh team. I could not contemplate walking away and not putting anything back into it. I hope coaching will be my passion now," he said today.
Edinburgh head coach Rob Moffat said: "Simon has been an influential figure in the club and, in many ways, a model professional. He has made a great effort to build the club ethos at Edinburgh.
"It has been as frustrating for us as it has been for him that injuries have restricted his involvement on the pitch in the last couple of seasons but I am sure that the same application he brought to his playing career will feature as he takes on a greater role in coaching."
Cross, who represented Edinburgh on 92 occasions, sat on the bench for the national team and has also won honours at 7s, under-19 and under-21 levels. He has a transparent affection for rugby, which almost seems a throwback to a distant era.
During his stint as a professional, Cross spent five and half years coaching and occasionally playing at Penicuik; and in the last two years he has coached at Murrayfield Wanderers, even playing for their seven at Berwick rugby club to fill in at the 11th hour when the ash cloud prevented some guest clubs reaching Scremerston . . . and that the day after the Murrayfield Wanderers’ club dinner. He has also been linked to Selkirk through the Premier 1 draft.
"It’s been ten brilliant years for me – every schoolboy’s dream is to be a professional sportsman and I’ve done that.
"While it might appear to some people that I’m departing a bit early, rugby is moving so fast now and you have to be right at the top of your game to compete well."
In 2004 Cross was among the Scotland substitutes at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. As the clock ticked towards no-side he was told to remove his tracksuit and was poised to be introduced on the touchline. Alas, the final whistle sounded and so did that opportunity for Cross, yet he has no regrets.
"There are definitely no ‘what ifs’," he reasoned. "I was involved in that scenario, in front of a full house at the Millennium Stadium, singing the anthem on the pitch. There have been other highlights too . . . playing in the Heineken Cup quarter-final for Edinburgh against Toulouse, representing Scotland on the IRB 7s World Series circuit and, four days after coming back from playing for Scotland in the Hong Kong 7s, helping Penicuik to win their own 7s for the first time in 18 years.
"On that particular occasion I wasn’t selected for the Edinburgh squad for a game against Munster and our then head coach Lynn Howells said I could play for Penicuik in the 7s. Winning our own tournament was a real highlight," he recalled fondly.
Cross only went along to Penicuik to help his then Edinburgh team-mate, wing Conan Sharman. When Sharman left to pursue his professional rugby career in Ireland, there was Cross, aged 22, in charge, but he fulfilled the commitment and still has many good friends at the club.
Cross’s eligibility to represent Scotland was only finalised after a case was prepared for the IRB Regulations Committee to determine.
He was born in a British military hospital in Mauritius. His mother, Fiona, was born in a British military hospital in Germany and his father, Peter, is an English citizen. Through his maternal side, his grandfather was born in a British military hospital in India, as was his great-grandfather. His great-great grandfather was born in Scotland.
The IRB Regulations Committee had to be satisfied that Cross had a "close, credible and established national link with the country." In its ruling the committee spoke of a "truly unique set of circumstances." It said: ". . . close links to Scotland were further demonstrated by the fact that the player (who was eligible to play for other unions) refrained from representing such other unions. In particular he turned down opportunities to play with the England national representative under-21 team in 2002."
Looking back on that now, Cross expresses his gratitude to former Scottish Rugby international administration secretary Gregor Nicholson for the "hours of research" he put into his case. He also speaks warmly of the support and guidance he received from Todd Blackadder during the former All Blacks’ captain’s stint with Edinburgh as both player and coach; and Paul Kesterton, Scottish Rugby’s education manager.
As far as the immediate future is concerned, Cross, who is completing a Masters in sports coaching at Stirling University, is stepping down after two years as part of the coaching team at Murrayfield Wanderers and is currently discussing coaching roles with a number of clubs and schools.
Henry Edwards, Scottish Rugby’s head of performance development, has taken a key interest in Cross’s development as a coach. He said: "Simon has shown a commitment to develop his coaching skills for some time. Coaching at Penicuik and Murrayfield Wanderers, he is part of our High Performance coach development programme
"As far as pro-players developing into pro-coaches of the future he has worked with the Scotland u18 squad for the past two seasons as part of his continuous professional development and we have created individual coach development plans for him.
"I am confident, with what I have seen so far, that Simon has the qualities to become a very good coach."
Cross added: "It is now time to move on. I do so with happy memories and hope that in whatever my next role is that I can continue to uphold and advance rugby’s traditions and values."