Where Are They Now | Tom Shanklin
Tom Shanklin was good enough to earn 70 caps for Wales, win a Grand Slam and get picked for two tours with the British & Irish Lions. To some people in his homeland he is regarded as the posh kid from Harrow, but he has always begged to differ.
He may have been born there, but he likes to point out he never went to the school graced later on in life by the likes of Billy Vunipola and Maro Itoje. The son of a former London Welsh and Wales centre, Jim Shanklin, he actually went to school in his father’s home town of Tenby and later on at the Howard of Effingham School. For the record, he states that neither was ‘posh’.
His rugby education really began at Bramley Road in 1999, when he took up the offer to join Saracens from London Welsh. Still a teenager at the time, he went on to play for Wales from the club and spent four years with the ‘Men in Black’.
“I was playing in the junior section at London Welsh and there was a coach there, John Davies, who had links to Saracens. He asked if I would be interested in joining a YTS style scheme at Saracens that would get me involved. I guess it was a sort of academy offer. That was back in 1998, but I initially turned it down,” he recalled.
“I was just breaking into the side at London Welsh. A bit later on I met Mark Evans and he convinced me to join. That was in 1999 and I can remember the shift from Old Deer Park to Bramley Road. There were some professional facilities that I hadn’t seen before, although the dog walkers still claimed their rights to walk all over the training pitch because it was a public park.
“We were playing at Watford’s ground at the time. The difference between playing at ODP and Vicarage Road was incredible. There were stands on each side, decent dressing rooms and we ran onto the pitch through a tunnel!
“In those days playing at a football ground was a big deal and it was nice to be playing in front of crowds of 8-10,000.
“I had a bit of a slow start because of injuries. That was all down to get used to the workload of senior rugby and training as a professional player. I think my debut came off the bench at Gloucester and then my big break came at Welford Road when we played Leicester. It was a televised game and I think the Welsh selectors must have tuned in. We lost but by all accounts, but I had a good game.
“I won my first Welsh cap while I was at Saracens, in Japan in 2002, and I think I can claim to be the first Welsh international to earn his first cap from the club. I then moved ‘home’ to Cardiff in 2003, but not until I’d won 14 caps as a Saracen.”
So what was it really like joining a club that was rising to become one of the greatest forces in the club game in the northern hemisphere?
“I came into a star-studded squad – Castaignede, Pienaar, Hill, Bracken, Grewcock, Luger, Murray – the list went on. I was still only a teenager at the team, like a sky little choir boy, but with hair!” he added.
“There were a number of great young players who joined around the same time. Ben Johnson, Adam Jones (the lock not the prop), Tony Roques, Matt Kearns and, of course, David Flatman
“‘Flats’ and I shared a house together and it was the start of a beautiful relationship that has survived to this day. We probably get on better now that we aren’t living together, but we still combine to produce the ‘Flats & Shanks’ podcast and work together on some media projects.
“We were young, playing professional rugby and just having a good time. It didn’t really matter in many ways if we won or lost, we were just have a ball. His cooking skills left a lot to be desired and he once phoned up his mum to ask how to make a bacon sandwich.”
As well as his media work and after-dinner speaking assignments, Tom also has a ‘proper job’. He is the commercial manager for Genero, an audio visual and events company in Cardiff.
TOM SHANKLIN’S SARACENS DREAM TEAM
15 Thomas Castaignede
14 Dan Luger
13 Tim Horan
12 Kevin Sorrell
11 Darragh O’Mahony
10 Duncan Macrae
9 Kyran Bracken
1 David Flatman
2 Robbie Russell
3 Christian Califano
4 Danny Grewcock
5 Scott Murray
6 Richard Hill
7 Francois Pienaar
8 Tony Diprose