An interview with former Exeter Chief Carl Rimmer

Carl Rimmer stepped down from professional rugby at the start of the 2018/19 season after an 11-year career which had seen him experience the highs and lows of the game. But he is planning to use those hard-won battle spurs from his sports career to make it in the world of business, as he explains to Tim Thurston.

In the end the decision to retire from professional rugby was taken out of Carl Rimmer’s hands entirely…it was the medics who told him he would have to quit the game he loved.

Having suffered a mild stroke during training in January 2018 after he got a nick in the artery in his neck during a game, there really was no way back for the 32-year-old Banbury-born prop forward.

“In the end it wasn’t a surprise to me that I had to pack up,” Carl reflects over a coffee with me. “Although I had made a complete recovery from the stroke the docs basically told me any form of physical contact down the line could have really serious consequences, given the injury I had suffered. So that was it: I had to stop playing.

“I guess for a lot of players it’s tough taking that decision as to when you are going to step down but for me it was taken out of my hands,” adds Carl. “In fact, it was pretty clear once I had made the recovery from the initial incident that I wouldn’t be coming back. I knew; and so for those final months of the season I was pretty much preparing myself for the end.”

Carl stepped down from frontline rugby with the praise of his Exeter team-mates ringing in his ears. But those obvious tributes to a colossus of the Chiefs front row were also joined by a rather different appreciative audience…Chiefs fans and independent commentators who knew just what a vital role Carl had played in the Sandy Park side’s march to the top of the Premiership tree.

Most observers with a keen eye on the art of front row play had Carl has one of the true unsung heroes of the Chiefs’ march to the Aviva Premiership title at Twickenham in 2017. There he was winning the vital last-minute penalty at the scrum in the semi-final at Sandy Park against Saracens and it was no surprise to see him in the first XV for the final itself. By the end of that season Carl, who joined the Chiefs in 2012 was pretty much a first pick on the teamsheet.

There is a sense with Carl that, despite the obvious setback of having to give up the game early, his roundabout route to the top has made him more grounded in terms of placing professional rugby and the opportunities it has given him into perspective.

And that means now – as he pursues a twin-track approach to forging a new career in the building industry and as an Associate with Team-i training, he can see both his former and future careers choices in context.

“I was truly living the dream playing Premiership rugby for the Chiefs,” he smiles. “I never at the start of my career thought I would get as far as I did in the game. That made every opportunity a bonus when it came.”

Indeed, Carl came late to professionalism when he signed for home town club Coventry in the days when the boundaries were still a little blurred between full-time professionalism and playing the game part-time.

Recalling his route to the top, Carl explains: “After my GCSEs I actually left full-time education and pursued a career in bricklaying and gained my City & Guilds qualification. It was only at the end of my apprenticeship, aged 20, that professional sports became a viable path for me

“I had started playing rugby at the age of seven. My parents were instrumental in making sure I kept my enjoyment of the game and made sure I had every opportunity to play and train at the highest level. However, despite always enjoying the game, it was not until senior rugby at my local club Earlsdon RFC that probably fully developed physically and a career in the sport became a possibility.

“I was playing 1st XV for my junior club, one of my older team mates had his father-in-law watching who happened to be on the staff at Coventry RFC and he suggested it would be well worth my while moving to Nuneaton RFC and Coventry would keep an eye on me. This was my first semi-professional club, although I only found out I was being paid in my second month when someone asked me why I hadn’t been collecting my wages!

“From here I enjoyed a successful year with them and ended up playing county rugby for Warwickshire, this resulted in an England Counties call-up and when I got back Coventry signed me officially to play for them. I would say that this was the start of being able to pursue rugby as a career.

“Sadly, I suffered a severe neck injury at the end of my second year and had to sit a year out, luckily at the end of this year, Cornish Pirates took a chance on me and I spent three amazing years down there which ultimately facilitated the move to Exeter in 2012.”

So the move to Sandy Park was the culmination of hard work, dogged determination and no little skill….qualities Carl now hopes to make the most of for his career in ‘civvy street’. Having gained a BSc in Building Surveying from the University College of Estate Management while still playing he is keen to get back into the building trade.

“I want to look at qualifying as a quantity surveyor and I have a few irons in the fire on that front,” he reveals. “But in addition to those opportunities I am excited at the prospect of becoming an Associate with Team-i Training.”

Carl’s involvement with Team-i will see him make appearances at training events, help with presentations and assist with the compiling of content as part of the company’s nine-point programme of leadership and teamwork skills which can be transcended from elite sport into business.

“I absolutely get the Team-i ethos and believe that it is easy to demonstrate how what I learned as a professional rugby player can be a real asset to business,” adds Carl. “It’s exciting to have the new venture as part of my portfolio of work and I can’t wait to get stuck in and start.”

Married to Sophie and with young daughters Renee and Demelza to keep him on his toes at home, it is clear Carl has a busy outlook ahead of him, but he is relishing this next phase of his life, but not before taking a pause at this momentous stage to look back on his pro career.

Asked to name the highlights of his time playing the game, Carl replies: “There is the obvious answer of the winning Premiership season, but I’d like to think my career as a whole has stretched slightly deeper.

“I often get told when I go back home that the kids in the mini and junior dept at Earlsdon always watch out for me. I have done a few awards presentations and had a great reception off them as well, saying I’m their favourite player and they want to play for the Chiefs. I think that’s something really special.

“I don’t for one minute think of myself as famous, but so few people can claim to have had an impact like that and I am very grateful for it. Also having young daughters of my own, I love the fact I can demonstrably show them they can live their dreams.”