WHEN Karl Dickson left Barnard Castle School he could have expected to graduate straight into the Newcastle academy.
Instead he headed south to Coventry University and a three-year switch from rugby to football.
Not even England’s foremost nurseries can spot every ounce of talent that pass through rugby’s revolving door.
The Durham institution that sent Rob Andrew, the Underwood brothers and later Mathew Tait into England renown never quite managed to help Dickson find his niche.
Barnard Castle and the Falcons had no such trouble with Dickson’s younger brother and now 16-cap England man Lee, proving perhaps the system learns from its missed opportunities.
Only an injury to Lee will rob Karl of another chance for the Dicksons to square up in direct competition when Harlequins take on Northampton at Franklin’s Gardens in tonight’s Amlin Challenge Cup semi-final.
Peas in a pod, scrumhalves both: now, but not always.
‘‘Lee played nine all the way through his school career, I played all over the place and then I stopped playing rugby when I went to university,’’ 31-year-old Karl Dickson said.
‘‘So from the age of 18 to 21 I stopped playing rugby, and then came back to it.
‘‘And I only took up as a nine purely out of chance and that I enjoyed it.
‘‘I just went to uni and the guys I hung around with were football guys, so I just started playing football again.
‘‘I played at school, I played 12, 13, all over the place.
‘‘I guess it was size that had something to do with it, moving to nine, I’m not the biggest guy, and I just wanted to be involved in the game as much as possible.’’ Barnard Castle and Newcastle can be forgiven for not guiding Karl Dickson through the ranks as a centre.
When he would have headed for further education in 2001, the Falcons could call on stellar inside-back talents like Jonny Wilkinson, Inga Tuigamala, Jamie Noon and Tom May.
University hiatus complete, Dickson senior pitched up at Bedford Blues for one last crack at rugby: five years later Dean Richards recruited him for Harlequins.
Tussles with 29-year-old brother Lee have been regular and feisty since, especially given a period of prosperity for both Quins and Saints.
Whatever the braggingrights banter with his brother, The Stoop’s Dickson said all that matters this weekend is Harlequins claiming another European final.
‘‘I just felt I wanted one more crack at it, to see whether I could go well at rugby,’’ said Dickson of his 2004 move to Bedford.
‘‘And I had a trial at Bedford, when I was doing a teacher training course down there.
‘‘I had the trial, did well and took it from there; in hindsight I’m pretty pleased it went well.
‘‘I was lucky that Deano picked me up, and gave me the opportunity to get involved with the kind of rugby I enjoy playing.
‘‘They decided to pick me up, and I’ve had five good years here with one more to come.
‘‘You’ve got to give guys an opportunity, at the end of the day if you don’t, you’ll never know where they’re at.
‘‘If you give them chances and they don’t take them, then you know, but if you never give anyone a chance you can’t judge them properly.
‘‘And that’s where it’s great here, they give young guys chances to perform and plenty of them take those opportunities, even this year too.
‘‘To be honest you don’t really think about the fact it’s your brother when you’re playing, you’ve just got to get on with it, you’re aware but you don’t let it get to you or distract your focus.
‘‘There might be a bit of banter here and there, but you’ve got to try to focus on your game and not let him disrupt it. We know our games inside out.’’