Former Scotland winger Tim Visser recently announced his decision to retire from professional rugby. He caught up with SCRUM to reflect on his career, and outline his plans for the future:
When Tim Visser arrived at Edinburgh in 2009, there was little fanfare, little known about the Dutchman who was making the trip north of the Border from Newcastle Falcons. By the time he left, Visser was not only a Scotland international, he was also one of the league’s most prized assets.
Now, he’s called time on his career, and the 32-year-old spoke to SCRUM about his reasons for hanging up his boots.
“I always said I would play until I was 31, and I’ve just turned 32 so I’m past the sell-by date I gave myself. I’m very happy to have played for such a long time but it’s come to the point where training became a bit of a drag.
“I had a knee op just before Christmas which I came back from successfully but I’m just not the same Tim – I’m not as sharp and as quick as I used to be. The knee felt quite good, but I always said I wanted to jump before I got pushed – that’s the same as I did with Scotland, I made the decision to stop there myself, and I’ve found it that quite important to do that in all facets of my life.
“I had another year left on my deal at Harlequins and they were keen for me to see that out but I wasn’t playing week-in, week-out and I wasn’t presenting the same value to the squad, and that was the turning point for me.
“It got to the point where younger players were looking better than I was and that’s where, if you’ve got any self-respect, you’ve got to take the plunge and decide to go and do something else.
“I’ve got two young kids that I want to be able to play in the park with and I felt that now was the right time to stop so I can do that.”
Visser took to Celtic League rugby like a duck to water – he was top try scorer in each of his first four seasons, PRO12 (as it was then) Young Player of the Year in his debut campaign, while among the more unusual of his accolades, he scored a five-minute hat-trick after coming off the bench in a game against Ospreys in 2010.
There was an appearance for the Barbarians against England at Twickenham in 2011, and the man from Zeewolde added to his growing reputation with two tries, including an injury-time match-winner for the invitational club side.
A prolific try-scorer, Visser reflected: “Scoring tries was always my favourite part – the one against Wales that won us the game, the one against France where Hoggy flicked it over his head, those were some of my best games for Scotland.
“Scoring the winner against Saracens for Quins, scoring the hat-trick for Edinburgh off the bench, most of my best memories are try-scoring related, as you can imagine.”
Edinburgh, under Irishman Michael Bradley, then defied all odds to reach the Heineken Cup semi-finals the following year, and Visser firmly put himself in the international window – particularly with two tries in a 48-47 howitzer with Racing 92 at BT Murrayfield.
In the summer of 2012, international recognition finally arrived for the son of Dutch internationalist Marc Visser – Tim pulled on the dark blue of Scotland in Lautoka, Fiji – and the two-try theme would rear its head once more as his ‘Toot and Salute’ celebration got its first outings on the international stage.
Little did Visser know he would return six years later, and don the thistle for the final time just 130 miles round the coast.
“I’ve come through a weird pathway,” Visser admitted, looking back on the early years of his career. “I went through the English system, played for England U18s and I nearly played for England Sevens, so it was all centred towards England. My contract ran out at Newcastle and Andy Robinson came to the rescue and offered me a deal at Edinburgh.
“Rob Moffat did a great job coaching me and I ended up playing myself into the picture with Scotland, and to get that opportunity in Fiji, scoring two tries, and scoring two tries against the All Blacks at Murrayfield, that was really mindblowing.”
Visser also explained to SCRUM when he felt playing for Scotland became a realistic target, adding: “I’d proved myself in year one and I topped that in the second year. Andy [Robinson] started talking to me about there potentially being a spot for me if I stayed in Edinburgh – I signed a new deal and played for the BaaBaas and I think that’s when it became serious.
“I remember Andy speaking to me about proving myself in the Heineken Cup and we had that Racing Metro game at home (which Edinburgh won 48-47) and I scored two tries. Andy came to me after the game and said ‘that’s exactly what I wanted to see’ and that’s when I realised it was a realistic chance.”
He reflected with great fondness on the 2012 tour that saw him make his debut. “I couldn’t really be around the squad because I hadn’t qualified yet so it ended up being a bit of a jolly. I remember we went to Manly, which is a phenomenal place, and we got there quite early so had a couple of nights out.
“The boys beat Australia in Newcastle so we had a night out there, came back to Manly and we were meant to play a midweek game, but it got cancelled so we had another seven, eight days before we flew out to Fiji.
“We still call it the Manly Stag because I couldn’t really do a lot, so I’d do a bit of training and then we’d go out for a bite to eat and a few beers in the evening. It was a lovely time for me.”
Visser acknowledged his introduction to Test rugby was a tough one, with his two tries seeing off a stubborn Fiji side, before Rob Harley’s last-minute try helped them to victory over Samoa in the final game of the tour.
“We went to Fiji and it was 38 degrees, and I remember me and Hoggy trying to hide in the shade in the warm-up.
“Samoa was another tough game – it was a tough introduction. Those guys know how to hit.”
Thereafter came a home debut, and a brace of tries, in defeat to the All Blacks.
“I got a try early on from a Matt Scott interception. I was so excited that after diving, I tried to get up again and fell over, but for me personally, it was dream stuff.
“I remember we had a decent game against South Africa and went up to Aberdeen and lost to Tonga, which ended up costing Andy Robinson his job, so that was a bit of a whirlwind time with Scotland.”
In March 2015, after six successful years in the Scottish capital – during which time Visser also made waves off the field, meeting wife Laura – he decided the next chapter of his rugby journey was to be written in London, and in the famous quarters of Harlequins.
His debut season saw him pick up in the Premiership where he’d left off in the PRO14, scoring 10 tries for Quins in all competitions, while he was top try scorer in the club’s 150th anniversary season, and scored nine times in the 2017/18 season, before injury struck and ruled him out for the majority of the campaign just finished.
A year ago, Visser decided to call time on his international career, and now, having just turned 32 and with two young children – Josh, 3, and 1-year-old Finn – he feels now is the right time to walk away from the sport.
Unlike many of his cohorts, though, Visser is at ease with the decision, announced by Quins in May but finalised in the Visser household early in the New Year, despite the best attempts of the London club to convince him otherwise.
With the decision fresh in his mind, Visser spoke to SCRUM to look back at some of his career highlights and picked out some of the best players he’s lined up alongside, and been in opposition to, throughout his career.
“A lot of people still talk about a try I scored against Tommy Bowe, and for me, that was a really nice one because he was such a good defender. It has happened to me as well, it’s the hardest place on the pitch to defend, but that was satisfying for me.
“I’ve always said that two of the most under-rated wingers I’ve played against were Andrew Trimble for Ulster – when I first started playing, he was good, but within a season or two, he was excellent in the air and he was very dangerous with ball in hand; so I thought he was tough to play against.
“The other one was Aled Brew, who didn’t get many caps for Wales, but I thought he was really good as well.”
“In terms of playing with, I really clicked with Greig Laidlaw and Mike Blair, but the one that stands out for me is Nick de Luca – he used to do his job, run straight and put in a big miss-pass so I just had to run over the line.
“He’s put me over for a lot of tries but I’ve played with a lot of good players at Harlequins too, Danny Care, Jamie Roberts, Chris Robshaw, James Horwill.”
And the former Scotland winger insists he will also be more than alright taking a watching brief and supporting his former international colleagues as they prepare for the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
“I’m looking forward to having some time off to spend with the family and becoming a rugby fan again. I’ll be cheering the boys on and I’m looking forward to watching that.
“I’ve had my time in the sun and now it’s someone else’s time to shine.”
A rugby story that started in the Netherlands, and brought international honours via a spell in Newcastle, and six successful years in Edinburgh before four more in London.
Visser will now likely swap his boots for a suit as he begins a new chapter. If this latest one is as successful as his rugby career, he’ll be quite alright.