Saints farewell interview: Christian Day

It might have come two weeks later than most, but Christian Day finally gets his chance to say a proper Franklin's Gardens goodbye on Sunday.

Saturday, 19th May 2018, 8:00 am
Updated Friday, 8th June 2018, 8:34 am
Christian Day has taken the decision to retire (picture: Kirsty Edmonds)

The lock was unable to feature in the final game of the Premiership season, against Worcester Warriors on May 5, due to a shoulder injury.

While Ben Foden scored a try and Stephen Myler signed off with a successful penalty attempt that put the seal on the victory, Day was forced to watch on from the stands.

He did get the chance to go onto the field of play after the final whistle was blown as he and the other 16 departing players were presented with a framed shirt by chairman John White.

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But thankfully for Day, he will get another chance to run out on the Gardens turf as he hosts his testimonial match this Sunday (kick-off 1.30pm).

It will be a game of touch rugby as Day, who is now retired and will take up a role as player liaison officer at the Rugby Players Association (RPA) this summer, is not fit for contact.

But even though it does not carry the heat of a Premiership or cup battle, it will still be a hugely special day for a man who has given so much to the Saints cause since signing for the club in 2008.

He has known the time is right to retire for many months now, and he is looking forward to remaining in the game with the RPA.

"Most players get to a point where they start feeling like it's the time to retire and then it's a case of being persuaded otherwise," explained Day, who will turn 35 in June.

"Last season I was thinking 'should I stop this year' but the coaches said they really needed my leadership for one more year so they signed me up for another year.

"I've been on single-year rolling contracts for the last four years so that when I knew the time was right to stop, I could stop.

"This year, around about Christmas time, I just thought that this was the right time,

"I wasn't quite where I wanted to be in terms of my body and mind and it's time to let some other guys have a crack at the first team.

"There are no regrets on my behalf. I'd known for a long time that I was going to be retiring at the end of this season and that lets you put the right things in place to make sure you've got a job to go to.

"The reality for 90 per cent of players is that when we stop playing rugby, we need to have a job.

"I'm very lucky that I'm getting to stay in rugby off the field. It was always my dream to stay involved but I didn't want to coach or play at a lower level.

"It's very much my dream job to help the game off the field and one day climb the ladder to one day being the guy who is making the decisions about how the game is run."

Day's last appearance for Saints wasn't one to savour as his shoulder injury forced him off in a hugely disappointing 63-13 defeat to Saracens at the Gardens.

"I picked up the injury against Exeter away (on February 24)," he said.

"The specialists say it's a degradation issue that's probably been building up for a long time, but I'd never had a shoulder issue in my whole career.

"Against Exeter, I made quite an awkward tackle and my shoulder just came out of it's joint and went back in.

"I ran over to the physios to say that I thought my shoulder had come out, they checked it over and told me I could carry on so I played the rest of that game.

"It was a funny period of the season where we had a lot of gaps between games so I'd do loads of rehab building into the game and by the time I'd reach the game it would feel good.

"But by the very next game, it came out of its joint again, against I did rehab, but I got knocked out cold in a game against Sale and then I had a rest after that.

"It got to the point where I went into the Saracens game and I was already struggling. I couldn't lift my right arm and it was at that point where the physios told me it wasn't right and I was doing myself long-term damage so I needed to get it looked at properly.

"I had a scan, saw the specialist and the answer was that I'd need a shoulder reconstruction or it was going to keep on happening so it is sad and I did miss out on the last three games but I got to play in 226 other games for the Saints and I'd never have any regrets about my career at Saints.

"I'm incredibly lucky to have played for such a brilliant club and I got to play a lot of games so to miss out on a few didn't make any difference.

"That last day was still fantastic because I got to walk around the pitch with my family and take it all in. It was great."

Day will walk away from Saints with 226 appearances under his belt.

He won a Challenge Cup in his first season and went on to claim another winners medal in that competition as well as glory in the Aviva Premiership and Anglo-Welsh Cup.

The Blackpool-born lock won the coveted players' player of the season prize in the double-winning season of 2013/14, showing just how vital he was to Saints' fortunes.

And his only disappointment is that Saints couldn't carry on their success beyond 2015, when they finished top of the Premiership table for the first time in the club's history.

"It's the expectation that's the thing that gets you down because we know how good a team we have had at Saints," Day said.

"We probably overperformed hugely in the first few years of Jim's tenure and that probably set us up for a fall afterwards.

"We won the Challenge Cup the first year we came back up, we went pretty much undefeated at home, then we had a great run of making the play-offs, reached a Heineken Cup final (in 2011), won the Premiership, won the league the year after that.

"Since then, we haven't performed to that standard and that can be hard to take, but that's what professional sport is and there's an awful lot of expectation on people to perform.

"The expectation is on both teams that take the field at a weekend but one of those teams is going to lose so it can be tough and some people can be quite cruel at times to professional sportspeople.

"In my job going forward, I hope to help with that kind of thing, with players who are suffering from mental problems and they are on the wrong side of results.

"If you're winning every week, it's a lot easier to be happy and motivated about your job than when you're not."

So what were his highest highs and lowest lows during his time at the Gardens?

"There are way too many highs to discuss any lows," he said.

"Highs are always mainly centred around big wins and we've had plenty of that.

"The whole ethos of the club is what I think a rugby club is about.

"The whole town is focused on the club, you can feel big atmospheres building up and some of those big Friday night games or big knockout games, you can feel the whole town focused on the game.

"The noise levels are incredible and it's one of the best places to play rugby. I'm very grateful that I've got to represent the club for the past 10 years."

Day's role with the RPA will see him help players cope with the demands of professional rugby and he will visit all 12 Premiership clubs on a regular basis next season.

But he knows it will be very different to being a player.

"You miss the bus trip back after the big away win, you miss the banter in the changing room that you have every day," said Day, when asked what he will miss most.

"When you move clubs, you suddenly have 40 new best friends that you spend a lot of time with and that's the thing a lot of people struggle with when they get removed from sport. They miss that competitive element to an extent, but the main thing is the social group that they're suddenly removed from.

"It's never the same if you're not a player. I'm under no illusions that next year I'll go back to the club every now and again and everyone will shake my hand and ask how I am, but it's not the same as being involved, going on the pitch together and going out for a drink together.

"That's the toughest thing and that's the thing I'll miss, but I'm very much looking forward to having a Saturday back where I can actually see my wife and kids now and again."

Saints will certainly miss Day, who has been part of the glue that has held the club together since the promotion to the Premiership in 2008.

But the studious second row forward insists the black, green and gold will cope just fine without him and he has backed them to become contenders again under Chris Boyd.

"I don't think the players will disagree that we've underperformed during the past few years, but I don't think it will take much to get back up there," Day said.

"We've got some amazing young players who are gagging for a go and we've got the likes of Dylan (Hartley), Courtney (Lawes), Piers (Francis) and Teimana (Harrison) all banging on the England door.

"We've got no shortage of talent, but the best thing for the club was a breath of fresh air, some new input that's going to happen this summer and I'm sure the club will climb back up that table."