- Genge wins Premiership award
- Wasps face Leicester on Saturday
Rugby Union made its return to the Olympics in Rio last summer in the Sevens format, but had it not been for injury Wasps lock Matt Symons could have been there in a different sport entirely.
Rowing’s loss was rugby’s gain as Symons had to call time on his fledgling career in a boat at the age of 21 due to an arm injury.
That saw him turn his attention back to the oval ball, and after a journey that has taken him around the world, Symons will take part in his first Aviva Premiership semi-final this weekend when Wasps lock horns with Leicester Tigers.
Having left Saracens academy to focus on rowing, it all could have been so very different if not for the forearm injury, and Symons remains in touch with his former teammates – including two-time Olympic gold-medallist Alex Gregory.
“A lot of my close friends from rowing went to London and Rio and we’re still good mates,” he explained.
“When you train that hard for three years, it’s very intense training, so you get to know each other really well.
“I did it for about three-and-a-half years and then went back to rugby after I got injured.
“It’s really different in terms of training, rowing is all about long levers, although there’s quite a lot of rugby players who rowed at school.
“It was great fun but it’s amazing how much it changes you, it’s amazing how the body adapts.”
Rugby in New Zealand
Symons played rugby as a schoolboy before focusing on rowing, and after being forced to retire from the latter, took up his former sport once more.
Initially playing for Esher while also studying at University of Reading, Symons finished his degree, and having not found a contract with an English top flight team, headed to the other side of the world.
There he joined brother Andy, who was playing for High School Old Boys under former All Black Aaron Mauger, and he quickly made his mark.
Based in Christchurch, he became a key member of the Canterbury side in the ITM Cup, as it was then, but rather than graduate to the Crusaders, he was snapped up by the Chiefs.
“Early on all the Super Rugby teams are keeping an eye on you and the opportunity came up at the Chiefs,” he said.
“At the time the Crusaders had huge depth in the second row, with Sam Whitelock, Luke Romano and Dominic Bird, so I jumped at the chance to go to the Chiefs.
“There were a few tricky moments early on adapting, but I settled in pretty quickly at the guys were great.
“I lived in a big house with a few of the Chiefs guys, with James Lowe, who is coming to Leinster, Anton Lienert-Brown and a few others.
“It was great fun and when you live with those guys you get a close bond.”
Symons returned to England in 2015, initially signing for London Irish before heading to Wasps this season.
It was reported that a chat with Graham Rowntree, over in New Zealand on England’s 2014 tour, made all the difference in that decision to come home.
According to Symons that is something of an over-exaggeration, but he admits it helped him finalise his decision.
“I had a coffee with him at Eden Park when they were over for the tour and he picked my brain a little bit to see my plans,” he added.
“I was already looking at coming back to the UK though but it was nice to talk to him then.
“I had already spoken to Bob Casey at London Irish though and made the decision to join.
“It was a difficult season, especially following the World Cup, and it’s a shame it didn’t quite work out. But I really enjoyed my time there.
“Now I’m at Wasps it’s been going really well and it’s been a good season overall. Hopefully we can keep that going.”