How I took on three England rugby internationals… and lived to tell the tale
What happens when a 20-a-day smoker who’s never been to a gym goes up against three England rugby internationals? Simon Rice donned his tracksuit to find out…
When I arrived at Twickenham Stoop, I was handed a waver to sign that stated I wouldn’t sue if I broke my leg. I knew then that my concerns about what I had let myself in for were justified…
Let me go back to the start and explain how I found myself in this position. QBE, the Official Business Insurance Partner of Premiership Rugby, were launching a competition aimed at grassroots rugby that will see five non-professional rugby clubs receive training sessions and £1,000 worth of kit. To promote this they had organised a training session with Harlequins and England trio Nick Easter, Chris Robshaw and Danny Care to which I was invited.
Despite not having played rugby since the age of 11, I thought it would be an experience, a ‘once in a lifetime experience’ even, according to the invite. So with a few concerns that my skills may have slipped in the intervening 15 years I also mused over my suitability for this event considering I avoid strenuous sport like, well like I would avoid a 20-stone rugby player if he came running toward me. My lack of regular exercise is probably the reason I’m physically built more like a basketball player than a rugby player. And if I were to be a little more self-deprecating I would say my frame is more akin to a ballet dancer. But none the less I cheerily told them I would come along.
So back to the Stoop, and waver signed, the other journalists who had come along and I began with a jog around the pitch, passing the ball to each other, and at this early stage of the morning I thought I was faring rather well. Although it wasn’t a race, I found myself pushing into the lead, which I took to be a good sign. But as the ball began to be passed too-and-throw it clicked that you need to be behind the player to receive the ball. It seemed that my exuberant running wasn’t something to feel pleased about after all.
Next up was a bit of passing around in a circle, somewhat complicated by the involvement of more than one ball. The aim was to throw one of them directly up in the air while receiving the other and quickly passing it on – a kind of juggling exercise I suppose. Although what transpired must have looked more like the type of juggling usually performed by a clown. When it became apparent that my fellow journalists and I were failing (miserably) to grasp this one, it was time to move on to some running led by Danny Care. Paired up and heading across the Twickenham Stoop turf, things got competitive, and in fairness, I did a little better on this task. I think I might have won one of the races (although I know for sure I lost the others).
Warming up exercises done, things got more physical when we practiced some rucking. I wasn’t sure how I would fare on this one – the only rucking I had seen up close recently took place outside a club at 3am. This was of the more organised variety but no less bruising. At one stage I took one of those big pad things – with the idea I stand up to three guys who try to push past me – a bit like ‘The Gauntlet’ from the 90s TV show Gladiators I suppose. It quickly became clear that three guys wouldn’t be necessary to get past – I was on the desk when the first guy hit me. As I laid there on the muddy pitch, I took a moment to consider a Gladiator name befitting of me. Something menacing like Hunter or Trojan or whatever they were called probably wouldn’t be all that suitable. Perhaps something along the lines of Kitten or Bambi would be more fitting. When I was back on my feet it was time for some mauling. Chris Robshaw informed me I wasn’t getting into the maul low enough and advised me to touch the ground as I went into the tackle. I usually only touch the ground I’ve dropped something but it did seem to help.
As things got more brutal, the affects began to be felt. “Mate you’ve got a bit of claret there”, said one journalist, pointing at another journalists face. “Yeah, you did it” came the response. And that’s as far as it went. Smashing into each other and getting battered is obviously part of the game – even in training. It didn’t make me feel any easier and that was compounded when Danny Care informed us we were going to play a game called ‘shoeing’. It could just have aptly been called stamping. The idea was that one person would tackle another and then everyone else would trample over them. The England lads enjoyed it, or at least I think they did – it wasn’t always easy to read their reaction as I curled into a ball, hoping that my nose would still be straight after they had all gone over. Thankfully my nose did stay vertical, and somehow, with the training at an end, miraculously everything else was still in place as well.
So how did I fare? When I asked Nick Easter what he thought of my performance he told me: “You had the right attitude”. Reading between the lines that’s a bit like a football manager saying his team gave it their best after being hammered 6-0. But I appreciated the positive comment, even if it was followed by a quip about not wanting to mess up my hair.
Fishing for a few more pointers I asked Nick if it would help if I shaved my legs. It’s what Gavin Henson does apparently (when he actually plays that is) and I thought it might help me. Apparently Nick has never tried it – and from the gruff response I received, I think it unlikely that he ever will. I don’t think I will either then. Nick also told me that there is “no-one” that he fears on the rugby pitch. Nick’s obviously a bit better at rugby than I am but I had to respect his reply. Personally, I was a little afraid of those pad things, but I might be able to get over that with a few more training sessions.
As I left Twickenham I had to concede that I’m more suited to enjoying my rugby from a sofa with a cold beer in my hand. I’m just not ready for the sort that involves ‘claret’. But at least I was able to walk out of the stadium unaided – I took that as a positive sign. My experience taught me more about the physicality of the game and the England trio were good enough to give me a chance. And I had to admit, when the people at QBE told me it was a ‘once in a lifetime experience’ they were right. Never again.
QBE, the Official Business Insurance Partner of Premiership Rugby, is launching QBE Rugby Pro. For more information, please visit www.qberugby.com.
You can follow Simon Rice on Twitter at twitter.com/simonriceTagged in: Danny Care, Nick Easter, QBE, Rugby, Stoop, Tom Robshaw, Twickenham
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