Mathew Tait has accomplished more in rugby than most players could dream of but he is still as hungry for success as ever, despite his priorities slightly shifting over the years.
From becoming the youngest player to represent England in a World Cup final when he started against South Africa in 2007, aged 21 years and 256 days, the 32-year-old centre made his 100th Aviva Premiership appearance in a Leicester Tigers shirt in the impressive 28-20 victory over Saracens last weekend.
He initially entered the wider rugby consciousness as a teenage star, making his international debut against Wales one day before his 19th birthday in 2005 and playing in that 15-6 World Cup final loss to the Springboks less than three years later.
Back to school
However, now that he is contemplating a post-rugby career, Tait has returned to his interests in academia and is studying for a Masters in Sports Directorship at Salford University.
“I’d always had the intention of going to university,” said the Tigers centre. “But everything happened quite quickly from leaving school and playing my first international just six months later.
“I’ve always been interested in biomedical science and the medical side of things, did half a degree in that, then got involved in the World Cup in 2007."Everything happened quite quickly from leaving school and playing my first international just six months later.
“I moved clubs from Newcastle down to Sale and tried to restart it part-time and found it too difficult to keep on top of everything with training and international commitments at that time.
“Everything kind of got put on hold for the first year or two I was travelling the world with the Sevens.
“Then in the second year, I had a couple of injuries and I needed to do something as a distraction to add more balance in my life so not everything was necessarily about rugby.”
In an effort to find that balance, Tait decided to spread his wings and notched up enough flying hours to attain a small aircraft pilot’s licence.
But with two young children now at home, he admits finding the time to take to the skies is getting harder and harder."The flying fund became the nursery fund when the kids were born."
“Unfortunately, the flying fund became the nursery fund when the kids were born, so it’s on hold for the time being,” said Tait.
“In future I would love to get back up there – I miss going up and flying, especially on cold frosty days like we have at the moment, nice and still and stable floating around.
“It’s a different buzz away from sport as well. I miss it massively but that’s the reality of having a family, priorities change.”
A season to remember?
Tait’s priorities may have changed off the field but in terms of his rugby career, the 32-year-old claims all is still to play for.
The Aviva Premiership table is extremely tight as the season approaches its final few rounds, with only eight points between Leicester in seventh and Wasps in third ahead of the weekend.
And Tait has refused to rule out featuring in another Premiership final this season, having won the title with Tigers in 2013 after a 37-17 victory over Northampton Saints.
“We’ve still got to play three of the teams currently above us, two at home,” he added. “They’re all eight-point games and a few of them have to play each other as well, so it’s as close a competition as I can remember.
✍️— Leicester Tigers (@LeicesterTigers) March 1, 2018
Mat Tait has recommitted to the #TigersFamily beyond the end of the current season, with the England international agreeing new contract terms.
Read the official announcement online now ➡️ https://t.co/uTQVHsWclp pic.twitter.com/AopcKpWZEL
“You just crack on, train as hard as you can, play as well as you can and hope you’re still doing well enough to be involved and get picked.
“I’m still as ambitious as I ever was. Both in terms of contributing to the group and doing as much as I can to achieve success – that doesn’t change.
“But everything becomes about the kids and providing for them. I don’t think it changes your desire to do what you’ve always done, it just gives you a bit more perspective.
“When you’ve had a bad day at the office you come home, you’ve got your kids and it gives perspective on what’s important. Rugby used to be the only thing in my life but there’s a lot more going on now.”
And the three words Tait uses to sum his career up are simple: “Not finished yet.”