Lee Mears: "It has been an amazing journey"
Retirement may have forced him out of the game prematurely but Lee Mears will look back on his time with Bath Rugby with few regrets.
After coming through the Academy in 1997, the start of Mears’ 16 years at the club coincided with the beginning of Bath’s fall from the limelight.
Although they won the Heineken Cup in 1998, the 33-year-old hooker has no Premiership title on his CV, with the closest he came being the defeat to Wasps in the 2004 final.
“I would have loved to have won the league with Bath and that still burns a bit deep but I’ve ticked most boxes,” said Mears.
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“I saw how successful Bath were before I arrived. Back then it was awesome to play but I don’t think they had the sort of quality of teams around them like it is now.
“Yes we weren’t so successful but is winning by 50 points every week as good as playing against Gloucester at a packed Kingsholm in front of crowds of 12,000 to 15,000?
“I’ve got tons and tons of memories and I’ve been back over them recently.
“I’ve been lucky enough to play with the greats – the Jeremy Guscotts, the John Prestons, the Ieuan Evans, right the way through to Matt Stevens, Steve Borthwick, Mike Tindall and Ian Balshaw.
“I enjoyed being with those boys, seeing how amazing they were and trying to live up to that era but also the guys who have gone through those different generations while struggling with injury and everything.
“All of those things have made me think that this has been an amazing journey.”
Mears has also made his mark on the international stage. He won 42 caps for England – including at two World Cups – and was part of the 2009 British & Irish Lions tour to South Africa.
“I think both World Cups were completely different and amazing – to be able to do that twice is pretty special,” said Mears.
“Playing for the Lions is certainly one of my highlights – that is the pinnacle.
“For so many years, you’ve been beating the Welsh boys and the Irish boys up and they’ve been beating you up. You don’t really get to know them as people.
“So to actually play with them and become team-mates – I’ve made lifelong mates just through those few weeks’ experience.”
Having had his last taste of competitive rugby, Mears will leave with only fond memories of the game – and club – he loves.
“I’ve seen on Twitter the amount of guys who have come back and said ‘well done’,” said Mears.
“It’s unbelievably humbling, so I’ll definitely retire a richer man for playing rugby.
“I’ve been a lucky, lucky man and that’s why I’m still smiling. I can’t sing the game’s praise enough and that’s why I love it.”