Ex-Newcastle Falcons flanker Ed Williamson has never been a man prone to doing things by half – his first season as player-coach at Rotherham seeing them gatecrash the Championship play-off party.
Tonight, they host big-spending Bristol aiming to claw back the three-point deficit sustained in a nail-biting first leg, the Co Durham native loving life in South Yorkshire after a rollercoaster career which has seen just about everything.
Making 31 Premiership appearances for the Falcons before being forced to retire due to a career-ending hand injury, life as a personal trainer and coach of Westoe was put on the back-burner when a miracle operation gave him a second chance as a player with spells at Leeds and London Welsh.
Juggling playing and coaching now at Rotherham, Williamson joked: “They seem to play better when I am on the touchline rather than on the field!”
It is typically good humour from a man who has been through the mill and come out better for it, crediting his time at Westoe for where he is now.
“Coaching in National Two North was hugely beneficial in building my mentality and philosophy as a coach, although I was in quite a dark place at the time with having just been told I could not play rugby again.
“Last season, I was with London Welsh playing in the Premiership, and when I heard Rotherham were after a player-coach I just knew it was right and I could do it.
“I knew their director of rugby, Lee Blackett, from playing together at Leeds, and it has worked well.
“I thought juggling playing with coaching would be harder than it is, but I am out there training with the lads. It means when I ask them to do something I am doing it myself, rather than just telling them run through a wall and watching them from 50 yards away.”
Making a cameo from the bench in last weekend’s 17-14 Championship semi-final loss at fancied Bristol, he said: “The lads played really well, although the fact I got sin-binned probably wasn’t the best example.
“I held my hands up to the team and apologised for that, but we have put ourselves into a strong position and all the pressure is on Bristol now.
“They are the ones who have spent all the money and been the big chat all season.
“We are just humble Rotherham, a little old club looking to upset things. We can play with no fear, whereas Bristol have massive stresses and pressures on them.
“It is a great time to be in the town this week, with Rotherham’s football team having got to the Wembley play-off final. Some of our lads went to their game during the week, the local paper have had big pull-outs about the football and rugby, and everyone is just going crazy for their sport at the moment.”
Links between Rotherham and Newcastle Falcons have long been strong, Joel Hodgson shining this season during a loan spell at Clifton Lane and four more set to follow next term when Andy Davies, Ben Morris, Sean Robinson and Chris Harris follow suit.
“I guess that is a bit of an endoresement of what we do, and the Falcons know their lads are coming to a good club where they will do things in the right way and have to fight for their places,” said Williamson.
“All our training and philosophy is about handling the ball, rather than going for scrums and penalties all the time. They won’t just walk into the team, but it will be great for their development.”
Going the opposite way is Juan Pablo Socino, the Rotherham skipper rated by Williamson as “one of the best professionals I have ever worked with, and a top lad to boot.”
He added: “Juan has a fantastic talent work ethic, and the Falcons have a good one there.”