On the second episode of Cardiff Blues’ Welsh language podcast, former outside half Nicky Robinson recalled the two unexpected call ups he received to join the Arms Park outfit’s senior squad.
After a successful debut episode in the company of Jamie Roberts, Welsh international Robinson was the latest guest to join host Owain Gruffudd, with some fascinating insight into his playing career, as well as discussing his journey with race-horse Monbeg Dude and Liverpool’s recent Premier League victory.
Robinson won 13 international caps for Wales and was part of the 2009 Cardiff Blues squad, which infamously reached the semi final of the Heineken Cup and lifted the EDF Energy Cup.
He enjoyed two spells at the Arms Park, which came at either end of his career, but admits he was unexpectedly thrown into the limelight as a youngster following injuries to Neil Jenkins and Iestyn Harris.
The former playmaker revealed: “You had Neil Jenkins in the squad and Iestyn Harris had just been signed from Leeds and I was meant to be third choice behind those two.
“Neil Jenkins broke a bone in his hand when he was with the Lions, and Iestyn was injured as well.
“I was out in Australia over the summer, watching the Lions and playing some rugby for Queensland University, which was an oppirtunity that Geraint John sorted out for me.
“I was meant to be there for three months but after two months he phoned me and said that I needed to head back home to Cardiff early to train with the first team squad, as there were no outside halves left. I was the only one!
“I was 19, and had only played 20 minutes in the final game of the season against Caerphilly the previous season, and I had to come into the squad, with a new head coach, and it was like a rabbit in a headlight-way of starting my career. I didn’t know how to play the game at that level and how to control a game, go through the moves and shout intructions at the forwards.
“It was a bit different, but might’ve been the best thing that happened for my development. I started the first nine games, until Iestyn was back fit to play against Glasgow in the Heineken Cup.
“He was named man of the match, scored two or three tries and it was a special performance. I remember thinking that things were going to be different for me from that point onwards!
“But I loved what I was doing. My job was playing rugby, training every day and living with Robin Sowden-Taylor and a couple of the other boys.
“I loved that, and I remember my first game against Connacht. It was the first game of the season and I was looking forward to playing in front of a packed crowd.
“It was a club that I’d dreamt of playing for, and I remembered watching Jiffy playing and watching Cardiff games from the terrace.
“But the game against Connacht was wet and windy and a horrible afternoon, and we lost six points to three.
“Eric Elwood was playing for them and it was a big game for Connacht because it was their first one back in the league.
“The next day I was sitting in David Lloyd’s reading the newspaper and it read ‘The out of depth Robinson’ and ‘The worst game of rugby I’ve ever seen.
“The dream was popped pretty quickly and reality set in. I think that’s when I realised what life in professional rugby was like.
“We then played and lost to Neath on the Wednesday, but in the third game against Newport at home is one of the fondest memories I have of playing for Cardiff.
“I was man of the match, I scored a try and was playing against Shane Howarth, who was at number 10 for Newport that day.
“I also got an assist for Matt Allen to score and after struggling for the first two games, thinking I shouldn’t be playing at this level, I realised that I could hold my own. It’s something that I was capable of.”
More than 15 years down the line - and via trips to Gloucester, Wasps, Bristol and Oyonnax - Robinson returned to his home region for the final chapter of a remarkable career.
Having initially hung up his boots after his time in France came to an end, Robinson received an SOS call from Cardiff Blues head coach, Danny Wilson, who he’d previously worked with at Bristol.
With Gareth Anscombe and Jarrod Evans both ruled out with injury, there was an opportunity for the Welsh international to finish his playing career back where it began, and Robinson says it was an offer that he couldn’t let slip, admiting he told a white lie in order to make it happen!
“Everything happened very quickly, and I had to lie to Danny as well when he phoned me on a Wednesday night to explain the situation,” explained Robinson.
“Gareth Anscombe was out after being injured and Jarrod Evans had broken a bone in his face, so they needed another outside half to come in alongside Steven Shingler.
“He asked me if I’d been training since retiring, but the truth was that since finishing up in July I’d done one session on the bike.
“On that session, I had to stop because I pulled my calf muscle and I had to walk back home.
“That was the only session I’d done. Because I’d called it a day, I was enjoying being able to drink and not training.
“But I did lie to him because I said, ‘yeah, yeah I’ve been keeping fit and doing a couple of things, don’t worry about it.’
“I then thought to myself, ‘sh*t, what am I going to do now? I need to train.’
“He asked me to come in on the Monday and have a week of training and then I’d potentially be brought into the squad for the following week.
“I did a couple of emergency sessions in Cheltenham in a local gym and went to training on the Monday. By the Tuesday, Danny turned to me and said ‘you’re on the bench on Saturday.’
“I was just thinking ‘on the bench? 10 days ago I was never going to play rugby again!’
“That was the game against Ulster, where I came on and put Cuthy in for a try.
“I thought, this is it, I’m back and everything was brilliant.
“However, the next time I got the ball, I was charged down and Ulster scored a try. The dream was over.
“But yeah, it was great to come back and finish my career with Cardiff Blues.”
All episodes of the Cardiff Blues Podcast, including the recent Welsh language episodes with Jamie Roberts and Nicky Robinson, are available now on all major platforms.