Ahead of Dan Cole’s 250th appearance for Leicester Tigers this weekend, the front-rower and his former opponent-turned-coach Steve Borthwick recall debut day for the prop.
Cole, 33, will reach the milestone for Tigers from the bench at Harlequins on Saturday, more than 13 years since his debut for the club he grew up watching as a young South Leicester player.
“It was pretty incredible and an eye-opening moment for what senior rugby was about"Dan Cole
It was at The Rec, against Leicester’s long-time rivals Bath, that Cole made appearance number one, fittingly, with the same number on his back.
One of the game’s best-known tighthead props, he agrees it is strange to think his debut came on the other side of the front row.
“The World Cup players, who had been in France, were back with the club and they included Marcos [Ayerza] on the bench as a way to re-introduce him back into the team,” recalls Cole.
“I was 20 and, being given a chance to play for Tigers, I wasn’t too worried about the number on my back. It was more of a shock to be picked as I was on loan at Bedford.
“I had played age group games at loosehead so wasn’t totally foreign to me.”
As well as Ayerza with Tigers, another returning World Cup star that Saturday afternoon was Bath skipper and now Tigers head coach Steve Borthwick.
Looking back, the former Bath lock turned Leicester boss, said: “I remember the game, coming back after the World Cup.”
“Tigers picked a younger team, without most of their players who had been in France for the World Cup, with guys on their way up the ranks at Tigers like Dan [Cole] and Ben and Tom Youngs.
"I remember the young Tigers pack playing exceptionally well – smart, tough and aggressive - clearly showed the fantastic potential they possessed.
"The condition that Dan is in now, and the way he approaches training every day, I think there will be many more outstanding performances for Leicester Tigers in the future."
As for Cole’s recollection of the match, he admits he thought it might be one of only a handful of appearances rather than 14 seasons of averaging almost 20-per-campaign to come.
“I remember getting pushed back on our own line at one scrum, then being replaced by Marcos and watching him dominate the Bath pack single handily,” Cole says with a characteristic smirk.
“It was pretty incredible and an eye-opening moment for what senior rugby was about and just how good Marcos was.
“Other than the two line-breaks I made from stepping Steve, I remember the occasion more than the game itself. But I don’t think the TV cameras caught them unfortunately, so it might be hard to find them.”
As for reaching the 250 mark, the prop certainly knows the magnitude of the feat but also has the job at hand at the front of his mind.
“It is something I am extremely proud of, definitely,” said Cole. “Everybody says the same thing when they reach a number like this, that you can’t believe it came around as quickly as it did and actually, it really is true.
“I have been fortunate enough to achieve a lot so far and experienced plenty of downs too, that’s professional sport. You get it all and go through it all with your team-mates.
“It is a special week and nice to reminisce in the build-up but, for now, it’s just the next game and my focus is on going to Quins and getting the result on Saturday afternoon.”
The Tigers team to face Harlequins was announced earlier today, including a handful of changes made by Steve Borthwick for the game at Twickenham Stoop. See it HERE.