Retiring from rugby aged just 27, Sam Twomey has traded his boots for brogues, settling into his second life in insurance.
Struggling with injuries even early on, his first years at Harlequins were spent loaned out to Ealing Trailfinders and London Scottish – picking up two broken wrists and a dislocated shoulder.
Speaking to the Sports Gazette, he said: “As a 27-year-old you’re not starting too late, so I didn’t feel I was completely out of the loop. Coming out of an industry saying you’ve already retired once is a good conversation starter.”
Life after rugby was always on Twomey’s radar – his club sending young players on work experience, as well as starting an Open University degree.
“I did a work placement with Ascot Underwriting. We went in there every other week to see different teams and learn a bit about the industry.”
Despite injury woes, positional competition motivated him.
“Once you got the starting jersey, you knew that everyone was at your heels.
“I don’t think I had a longer stretch than nine games in the starting shirt because of injury, which was frustrating at times.”
International ambitions came with regular game-time. “You see the goal of how can I get into [England] Saxons? How can I get into the England training squad?”
Starting Harlequins’ 2016 European Challenge Cup final loss to Montpellier pushed this dream closer to reality.
“Off the back of that I got a phone call from Joe Schmidt [Ireland head coach] – because I’m Ireland qualified. It was very much you’re on standby for their tour to South Africa.
“You have to give them all of your holiday details and take your boots on holiday in case you need to go and jump on a plane.”
An ankle injury early in the following season wiped his hopes of featuring in Ireland’s famous win over the All Blacks in Chicago that November.
“You think, could I have been there? Could that have been me?”
Failing to recover from a fractured navicular, Twomey was sent to a specialist to save his rugby career.
“Professor James Calder is the ‘ankle-man’. Any big player who’s had an ankle injury goes to him.
“The estimation for surgery was 17 hours because of how intricate it was. There was that fail-safe of it being fused afterward if it doesn’t work.”
Missing 15 months of rugby, Twomey praises Harlequins for their support throughout.
“After nine months they can cut my salary in half – they didn’t. They supported me with my degree, I did a personal training course, I did work experience.
“I was never worried about being cut off or let go.”
Despite this, his contract was not renewed, a situation echoing Mike Brown’s departure from Quins.
“The conversation was that I could take some time off for my honeymoon should that contract be in place, so I thought brilliant, something is going to happen eventually.
“Plan the honeymoon and two weeks later I am surplus to requirement. You’re told one thing one week, and then let go the next.”
There’s no bitterness between Twomey and Harlequins, accepting the business-driven decision.
“To be fair, they got a good return on their investment in [Alex] Dombrandt as the player they brought in to replace me.
“I thought I was safe, but rugby’s rugby. I was never good value for money.”
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Eventually signing for London Irish, he tore his pec muscle of the bone early in the season. Not playing any rugby, Twomey was cut from the squad.
The timing, again, could not have been worse, with his wife expecting their first child.
“That’s when the decision was made up.
“I had a two-month spot as an assistant underwriter in an office that was shutting down at Allianz. It was a shot to nothing.”
Transferring to their Guildford branch, Twomey continued playing semi-professionally for Rosslyn Park – alongside players in similar situations.
“I think it was Plymouth away, all in the car back, and we were like ‘How are you guys finding it?’
“Everyone was like ‘yeah, it’s a bit sh*t’.
“It was nice to have that honesty. It’s been hard, but it’s a life we knew we would have to go into.
“Having each other was helpful. That was a nice transition out of it, you had work and rugby.”
Twomey’s time at Park came to an end with an ACL injury just before the Covid lockdown.
“My body wasn’t saying it wanted to, my head wasn’t either. I had a young kid, my wife had another on the way, I just had no time for it.”
Grateful for his career, Twomey admits his one regret: “I always had a dream to take my kid to watch me play. I remember watching my old man, but I never really got to have that.
“My eldest knows I used to play, but she’s never been able to experience that with them, which I’ve always found quite hard.”
A 2022 Harlequins reunion at Twickenham helped to somewhat resolve this.
— Harlequins 🃏 (@Harlequins) May 23, 2022
“Afterwards we went to The Stoop [Harlequins’ stadium] and she could run around the pitch, like when I was a kid down at Crawley when my dad was playing.”
Now working under former London Irish lock, Kieran Roche, at Aviva; Twomey is one of many former rugby players in insurance.
“There’s 25 to 30 people in this WhatsApp group, always chatting about if there’s anyone who can help out with anything. It’s a good way of keeping in touch.
“If anyone’s friends are coming out, you bring them along and see if you can set up any introductions or bring them into the office and show them how it works.”
While Twomey still misses the pitch, he does not miss the demand on his body. His transition into life post-rugby is the reality that most players must face.