THE greatest captain I ever played under – that's Mike Burton's compelling tribute to Gloucester legend Mike Nicholls.
Combative former Gloucester hooker and captain Nicholls has died, following a long illness.
England and Lions prop Burton packed down in the same Gloucester front-row as gritty Nicholls for years.
And Burton hailed his old team-mate and friend Nicholls as one of Gloucester's greatest ever servants.
Decorated front-rower Burton played under renowned England captain John Pullin, and legendary Lions skipper Willie John McBride.
For him to rate Nicholls above that pair speaks volumes about the high regard in which the former draughtsman and Old Centralian will forever be held.
Burton explained: "He led Gloucester from the front, he was the greatest captain that I ever played under and he made a tremendous contribution to the culture of Gloucester rugby club.
"He never asked any quarter and he certainly never encouraged us to give any."
Burton and Nicholls were part of the Gloucester team that lifted the inaugural RFU Knockout Cup, in 1972.
He said that triumph will rightly go down as one of Nicholls' and Gloucester's finest hours.
He continued: "The Gloucester structure of that team was one that saw us play with a big productive pack, led by Mike Nicholls, two centres who could tackle and a goal-kicker.
"That saw us through that era until now where we play with a more expansive game."
The Gloucester club flag will fly at half-mast until Nicholls' funeral, in respect to one of the club's toughest and most admired captains of all time.
After progressing quickly through the Old Centralians ranks, Nicholls made 483 Gloucester appearances in a Kingsholm career spanning 17 years.
One of the abrasive hooker and legendary leader's finest moments in a Gloucester shirt came in 1972, when the Cherry and Whites saw off Moseley 17-6 at Twickenham to lift the first-ever Knockout Cup.
Gloucester saw off Bath, London Welsh and Coventry – all away from home – to make that final.
Nicholls and Co did it the hard way – the way that meant the most.
Despite a long-standing illness Nicholls was able to attend the dinner to mark the 40th anniversary of that cup triumph in April, where the whole 1972 team was reunited.