A Brief History
Ben is an international Number 8 and a legend amongst the faithful at Gloucester Rugby. He has played more than 200 competitive games for the club and won 31 caps with England.
He is Gloucestershire born and bred; he was brought up in Kingswood and went to Katharine Lady Berkeley’s School in Wootton under Edge. He played his junior rugby at Dursley RFC, where he has retained close ties, before moving to Cinderford in the Forest of Dean.
He then went across the border to Wales to advance his rugby career, playing first for Merthyr RFC and Cardiff Blues U20 and then switching to Llanelli and Scarlets in 2009.
By the Summer of 2011, having impressed at Scarlets, he was being courted by both Wales and England. He was qualified to play for Wales through residency and Warren Gatland had him in his plans, especially when Ben declined to play for England Saxons in the Churchill Cup. However, in January 2012 he opted to make himself available for England and a grateful Stuart Lancaster gave Ben his international debut a month later in England’s win against Scotland at Murrayfield. He went on to play in all five of the six nations’ games, receiving the man of the match award in the final game against Ireland.
In March 2012, Ben signed for Gloucester Rugby and, replacing the outgoing captain Luke Garraway, started the 2012/13 season as Gloucester and England’s first-choice Number 8.
On December 1, 2012, Ben starred in what Matt Dawson then described as “England’s greatest ever victory” – England’s 38-21 defeat of the All Blacks at Twickenham, their first defeat in 21 games after winning the 2011 World Cup.
In all Ben played 31 times for England, which would have been many more but for injuries (and a small matter of Eddie Jones!). While he was sidelined for much of the 2013 Six Nations, he returned for the summer tour of Argentina, playing both Tests, and then played in all of England’s games through the rest of 2013 and all of 2014, culminating in the 2014 Autumn internationals against New Zealand, South Africa, Samoa, and Australia, scoring three tries and being named England’s player of the series.
At the time, Graham Rowntree, England’s forward coach, said Ben was “arguably the best Number 8 in World Rugby at the moment”. And then, January 9 2015 happened.
On that day, Ben suffered a serious leg break against Sarries that required pins and plates to be inserted, and his dream of playing in the 2015 World Cup was in tatters. And so started seven months of pain-staking rehabilitation, usually alone in the gym. While the mental struggle is often harder than the physical challenge of recovery, Ben kept focused, saying at the time; “everything I do is to make myself a better rugby player and give myself the opportunity to be back on the field.”
By August, he was fit and strong enough to be included in the squad and to play in warm-up games against France and Ireland. Ben went into the World Cup as England’s starting Number 8 in the opening match victory against Fiji. He was then injured for the Wales game before returning to face Australia. However, defeats in these two games ended England’s World Cup at the group stage. It also ended Stuart Lancaster’s time as England coach, and Ben’s England career at only 27 years old, as Eddie Jones, rang the changes for the 2016 Six Nations.
England’s loss was certainly Gloucester’s gain as Ben has been able to prolong a top-level rugby career into his mid-30s and, as a firm favourite with Kingsholm’s Shed, “local boy” Ben has given great service to the club over the past 11 seasons.
It is a real honour for Ben to be awarded a testimonial year by Gloucester Rugby. Let’s hope he receives the support and recognition he so richly deserves.