LEGACY: The new C&G Grandstand is Tom Walkinshaw's (inset) overriding legacy at Kingsholm in the opinion of Mike Burton
CHRIS Catling was probably the first to tread the now firmly-established direct route from university to professional rugby.
The marauding full-back knew just how to cut a fine attacking line at Kingsholm: and he hailed Tom Walkinshaw for allowing him to cut a swathe straight from Exeter University and into full-time rugby.
Establishing himself in Gloucester's first team during the final year of his Management Science and Maths degree, Catling progressed from graduation into professional rugby.
Men like Henry Trinder and Jonny May will hardly have batted an eyelid at stepping straight from Hartpury College into Gloucester's top ranks.
When Catling made the similar switch as Walkinshaw took charge in 1997 no-one knew what to expect – but at least he had no day job to quit.
Catling explained: "I finished my degree and went straight into full-time professional rugby.
"In my final year at Exeter I was playing semi-pro at Gloucester, and I did 50,000 miles in the car.
"I've got fond memories of that time. I forged some close friendships and it was a really exciting period for everyone at the club.
"I was coming straight in from university, everyone else was wondering whether to jack in their day jobs and it was a huge change.
"Tom came in when everything was up in the air, and he totally settled everything down and pointed the way forward.
"He was superb for the club and superb for the sport, and it was a fantastic time.
"He struck the perfect balance for a chairman really. We didn't see too much of him, but he was always there at the right times.
"He would put on end of season drinks for us, and I remember some really funny clay pigeon shoots in one of his back gardens."
Now 34, the former England A number 15 has forged a new career with sports data and technology company deltatre – and he credits Walkinshaw for setting him on that route too.
Working in London for the company that provides graphics for BBC football programs Match of the Day and Final Score, Catling said Walkinshaw set him up for his first foray into the world of sports technology.
Catling continued: "He arranged two weeks' work experience for me at the Arrows factory too, and I was hugely grateful for that.
"Given that I've gone on to forge a career in sports data and technology, that could not have been more useful.
"All of us guys from that generation, we will all be forever indebted to Tom for giving us the most wonderful opportunity, and that's something none of us will ever forget.
"It's extremely sad that he has passed, and he'll leave a gaping hole at the club, but he also leaves an unrivalled legacy and for that we must pay rightful thanks."