ANDY TITTERRELL will face Leinster on Saturday for the first time since a moment of recklessness that shaped his career for the better.
The five-times capped England hooker, signed by Edinburgh on a one-year-deal as back-up to Scotland and Lions ace Ross Ford, well remembers the last occasion he headed across the Irish Sea to face Dublin’s finest.
It was 2004 and the Heineken European Cup, with Titterrell’s Sale Sharks visiting Leinster.
Sale were to win 24-23 but memories are bitter-sweet as volunteered by Titterrell when telling how then England coach Sir Clive Woodward kept him involved in the national squad and ultimately on a journey to a debut cap that summer – despite serving a suspension for misdemeanours at Lansdowne Road.
“I got banned for stamping on Eric Miller and, although there was no intent whatsoever, I wasn’t looking at what I was doing. The main thing I took out from the ban was not to be reckless, to try and be a little bit more precise when entering rucks etc.
“The club lawyer was telling me to plead guilty and I was saying: “I am guilty of stamping but I had no intent.
“The ten-week ban I collected ran into the Six Nations period but Clive called me up and said he still wanted me to be part of his squad, to come to the training camps.
“I was overwhelmed and humbled.
“For me, it was massive for someone to show that faith in my ability.
“I knew I had let him down, my team0mates at Sale down too. It cost me dearly but it also changed me.
“I had always tried to play on the edge, physicality-wise in a sport where confrontation is always there.
“And, if you don’t have that, you might not be in the right sport.
“But from then on I have learned as I’ve come through and captained sides as well that it is about being able to stand up for your team mates, for yourself, not to be bullied – but always from on the right side of that edge.
“Some guys can try and intimidate you in the front row or in the forwards generally.
“So, I have certainly learned a lot as I have gone through the years about staying on the right side of the edge and getting a good rapport with referees.”
Lesson learned regarding channelling his energies legally, Titterrell, who the previous Autumn as a 22-year-old had been cut in the final selection for an England squad who were to go on and win a World Cup, was able to advance on an international career.
And, while it may not have been the longest, amounting to five caps and counting – “I dream of playing for England again” he says – the porfolio is highly impressive including matches against the All Blacks in Auckland, the Springboks in Pretoria and Scotland at Twickenham as well as Canada and Italy.
There is also the matter of a Lions tour to New Zealand in 2005 which also factors into an impressive amount of experience to bring to the cause of an Edinburgh side he has represented with distinction in all three competitive matches so far from off the bench to share in wins over Cardiff and Zebre as well as a bonus point defeat by Munster.
There is a fair amount of sacritice involved in that too, which means he intends doing justice to every opportunity.
Says Andy: “My wife and I knew if I was to get an opportunity I would have to leave home in Stockport but it is the first time I have been away from my family.
“We have two boys and the eldest, Luca, who is five, was due to start mini rugby this season but I am not around to take him.
“It is tough but not forever although I would like to play until I want to stop and not be told. So, if the deal with Edinburgh is extended then that would be attractive.”
Catalyst for the move is Edinburgh’s new forwards mentor Neil Back, who coached Titterrell at Leeds Carnegie.
“I have admired Neil for a long time and when he called me up I told him I still had the hunger especially to join a team like Edinburgh,” said Titterrell, adding: “I just wanted to sample a different coaching environment, to play with and against different players, to feed off guys who have drive and intensity to push me and for me to push them.
“The good thing about being at Edinburgh is you have 10-12 Scotland players.
“Yes, the set-up is a little bit different in terms of how many games they can play, remembering how I played 42 games for Sale in the year we won the Premiership and that was before going on tour with England. But the pressures are different on those Scotland players and, with Edinburgh it is about trying to repeat that run to the European Cup semi-final again and to show the club are a force.
“It would be great to be part of that and, although I know it won’t play for England again, that keeps me going. There’s a little light that’s burning and telling me if I play well they might want to have a look.”
Were it to happen then Edinburgh could provide both hookers in this season’s Six Nations which would certainly be historic.
Listening to the determined and quietly-spoken Titterrell, a qualified strength and conditioning coach, is to be convinced it won’t be for the want of trying – and who knows what sort of journey another venture into Leinster’s den might produce for a player still just 31 years old?