After 12 years and more than 250 appearances for Newcastle Falcons, front-row forward Rob Vickers has announced he will retire from playing at the end of the current season.
The 36-year-old has been a central pillar of the Falcons’ surge to the Aviva Premiership semi-finals, and will remain very much part of their plans as they round off what has already been a remarkable season.
But as they prepare for their final home game of the campaign against Wasps this Saturday in front of a sell-out crowd of 10,100, Vickers has confirmed that the time has come to draw a line under a fabulous career which has seen the England Saxons forward running out 260 times in Falcons colours.
“I’ve had a number of discussions with Dean Richards and, to be fair, I just think I’m ready for it,” said the Yorkshireman, who joined the Falcons following his studies at Durham University.
Playing in all but three of the Falcons’ 21 Aviva Premiership matches this season, Vickers scored a dramatic late match-winner in Newcastle’s last home win over Sale Sharks and was on the field during the dramatic climax at Leicester Tigers last Friday.
“I feel as though I’ve still been contributing to the team this season but I’ve always said I didn’t want to stay on too long and be that player who just hangs around, and eventually falls off a cliff,” said the loose-head, who converted to prop midway through a career which had began with him playing at hooker.
“For me this is the perfect time with the team flying high, with me still playing a genuine part, and it just feels like the moment to step aside and let someone else come through to keep this team moving forward.”
Remaining loyal to the Falcons for more than a decade, Vickers said: “It has been a lot of games and a lot of years, and it’s hard to put into words how much this club means to me.
“I always wanted to be a one-club man, and even when the Falcons got relegated I made the decision that I wanted to stay here and help us to move in the right direction. I’d like to think I’ve played a small part in that journey, and when I do hang up my boots in hopefully three games’ time I’m leaving the club in a better place.”
Still a key cog in a Newcastle side enjoying their best showing for two decades, Vickers said: “What a fantastic season.
“At the start of the campaign pretty much everyone outside of these four walls wrote us off, but we’ve just got quietly on with our jobs. There hasn’t been major change, the nucleus of the squad has remained very much in tact and I think that has been a huge part of the reason why we’ve developed as well as we have. I can look at every one of these guys and say they’re genuine friends who I want to fight for, and that’s the mark of this squad.”
Turning attention towards life after rugby following what he hopes will be a big finish to his career, the prolific prop added: “My wife Elaine has a farm in County Durham and I think she’s going to let me have a drive of her tractor for a little while. She runs the cattle side of things – to me they just have four legs and go ‘moo’ – but I have a big interest in the arable side of the farm. If I’m allowed I’ll get out on the tractor, and hopefully not hit too many gate posts!
“Having played rugby for so long I also feel I have something to offer in a coaching capacity. Whatever that might be is still yet to be determined, but I’d love to stay coaching somewhere.
“Most importantly I want to spend some time being a dad and a husband. As rugby players we have the best job in the world but it does require sacrifice, and one of the main sacrifices is not getting time at home with your children. We’re away a lot of the time through rugby, it can be the children who suffer and I’m looking forward to spending much longer with my two kids.”
Keen to show his appreciation for those who have helped along the way but mindful of forgetting to highlight any of the countless individuals, Vickers said: “It’s a dangerous game when you start publicly thanking people because you’re inevitably going to miss out someone who has been really important to you, but if I mention only one name it would be Dean Richards.
“He showed the courage and foresight to move me from hooker to loose-head, he stuck with it and it has undoubtedly prolonged my career. Not every decision will go your way when you’re working with the same director of rugby for so many years, but Dean has always been fantastic with me and I’m enormously grateful for the role he has played.
“What’s really important to me is to thank all those people who have supported me over the years - friends, family and coaches. Those guys are a given, and then there’s my sponsor, Adam Hall from Redhead Roofing, who has sponsored me right through my career from when I was at Tynedale, and even chaired my testimonial committee.
“The support I’ve had from the Falcons’ fans has been absolutely amazing, and I can’t really put into words how much their backing has meant to me over the years. They have been unbelievable with me through thick and thin, and I’m eternally grateful to every single one of them.”
Newcastle Falcons director of rugby Dean Richards, keen to thank Vickers for his tremendous years of service, said: “Bobby is just an incredible person and a fabulous member of our group.
“He keeps himself in tremendous shape, he contributes on the field and even behind the scenes he is an immensely valuable figure. Everyone knows his ability to score tries from close range, he does it time and again and I don’t think you can emphasise enough how big an influence he has been for us.
“I know the crowd will give him a huge ovation on Saturday at the Wasps game, which will be richly deserved, but with a Premiership semi-final and hopefully a final to come he still has a big part to play in the success of this club.”