Category Archives: Journal

Tomos Parry

Tomos Parry Rexclub

 

Tomos Parry emerged from Angelsey, Wales, and quickly took the culinary scene by storm.
He opened his first solo restaurant, Brat, in 2018 and won a Michelin star within its first year.

Tomos
Parry

 

interview by Naomi Prakash
photography by Oscar J Ryan

 

Following a career working in some of the most beloved restaurants in the country including River Cafe, Kitty Fisher’s and The Ledbury, he is now known for cooking over roaring open fires and prioritising great fresh produce.
We met up with Tomos to discuss his cooking journey and how he finds space for sport in the kitchen.

 

“About ten years ago I opened my own pop-up in Climpson’s Arch in Hackney. It was based around cooking over an open fire, which is a natural part of the country lifestyle in Wales.
I realised then how much I loved that way of cooking.”

Tell us a bit about your background and how you first developed a love for food.

I grew up in Angelsey, North Wales, right on the sea. Growing up there, you’re surrounded by cafes cooking shellfish and fresh fish. As a kid, your summer jobs are always in a cafe like that, so you start prepping mussels at a young age! I started to actually love cooking a lot when I was young, but then I decided to go to university in Cardiff to study History & Politics. It was pretty awesome coming from a small town then moving to a buzzing city like Cardiff, there’s so much happening all the time. That’s when I actually started seriously thinking about food, I stopped going to lectures and spent my time cooking instead. I got my degree though, but I immediately went into restaurants and started training to be a chef afterwards. I thought about Investigative Journalism, but really I was just confused. I thought I should follow the more traditional route that everyone else was doing. But I didn’t end up accepting my offer for the Journalism Master’s, and followed my growing passion for food instead.

When did you first realise that you could make a living from cooking?

It depends on what you mean by ‘a living’! I’ve lived through a lot of change in the hospitality industry – when I started the pay was low and hours were long, but now it’s very different. You can make a really good living out of it. Before, you really had to commit yourself to working every day and making no money, but now the industry has changed and there’s more of an appreciation for a work-life balance.

Where did you find inspiration during your early years in professional kitchens?

Definitely at River Cafe. Not even just food-wise, but culture-wise. Ruth Rogers was and still is a master of kitchen culture, and she can inspire a team like no one else. It’s the little things she does: the first week I was there, I was on the dessert section and had no idea what

I was doing. Oprah Winfrey came in, and Ruth brought me over to her table to present the desserts. I wasn’t confident at all, but I thought it was amazing that she had so much faith in a new person. In most kitchens, there’s a really established hierarchy, but she’s breaking that mould. Plus, cooking-wise, I take a lot of inspiration from Francis Mallmann of South America. His Chef’s Table episode is amazing, it’s beautifully shot and actually reminds me of Wales. He uses open fires too!

How did you gather the momentum to open your own restaurant?

About ten years ago I opened my own pop-up in Climpson’s Arch in Hackney. It was based around cooking over an open fire, which is a natural part of the country lifestyle in Wales. I realised then how much I loved that way of cooking. From then on, I decided to focus on woodfire cooking only, which at the time was unheard of in London or any major city like New York. I’d never done anything like that pop-up before so it was quite risky really. I was trying new things like grilling peas on a fire and trying things out on my own terms. That pop-up became really popular, and one day some guys from a restaurant in Mayfair came round and tried my grilled grouse dish. They asked if I wanted to join a restaurant which was called Kitty Fisher’s. I joined them, and once we opened it became an overnight success to a ridiculous extent. It was a perfect storm – the timing worked, they had connections, and it just grew quickly. That’s where I got to hone my cooking style further. Later on, my business partner Ben (who had been my best friend for about ten years) opened a restaurant called the Smoking Goat. He gave me the opportunity to open my own place upstairs, and that became Brat.

What does ‘Brat’ mean?

Brat is an old word for turbot – our signature is a whole turbot cooked over flame, which is a recipe from the Basque country. It also means ‘apron’ in Welsh, so everyone who’s Welsh and comes to the restaurant thinks I’ve named it after an apron!

Tell us a bit about your background and how you first developed a love for food.

I grew up in Angelsey, North Wales, right on the sea. Growing up there, you’re surrounded by cafes cooking shellfish and fresh fish. As a kid, your summer jobs are always in a cafe like that, so you start prepping mussels at a young age! I started to actually love cooking a lot when I was young, but then I decided to go to university in Cardiff to study History & Politics. It was pretty awesome coming from a small town then moving to a buzzing city like Cardiff, there’s so much happening all the time. That’s when I actually started seriously thinking about food, I stopped going to lectures and spent my time cooking instead. I got my degree though, but I immediately went into restaurants and started training to be a chef afterwards. I thought about Investigative Journalism, but really I was just confused. I thought I should follow the more traditional route that everyone else was doing. But I didn’t end up accepting my offer for the Journalism Master’s, and followed my growing passion for food instead.

When did you first realise that you could make a living from cooking?

It depends on what you mean by ‘a living’! I’ve lived through a lot of change in the hospitality industry – when I started the pay was low and hours were long, but now it’s very different. You can make a really good living out of it. Before, you really had to commit yourself to working every day and making no money, but now the industry has changed and there’s more of an appreciation for a work-life balance.

Where did you find inspiration during your early years in professional kitchens?

Definitely at River Cafe. Not even just food-wise, but culture-wise. Ruth Rogers was and still is a master of kitchen culture, and she can inspire a team like no one else. It’s the little things she does: the first week I was there, I was on the dessert section and had no idea what I was doing. Oprah Winfrey came in, and Ruth brought me over to her table to present the desserts. I wasn’t confident at all, but I thought it was amazing that she had so much faith in a new person. In most kitchens, there’s a really established hierarchy, but she’s breaking that mould. Plus, cooking-wise, I take a lot of inspiration from Francis Mallmann of South America. His Chef’s Table episode is amazing, it’s beautifully shot and actually reminds me of Wales. He uses open fires too!

How did you gather the momentum to open your own restaurant?

About ten years ago I opened my own pop-up in Climpson’s Arch in Hackney. It was based around cooking over an open fire, which is a natural part of the country lifestyle in Wales. I realised then how much I loved that way of cooking. From then on, I decided to focus on woodfire cooking only, which at the time was unheard of in London or any major city like New York. I’d never done anything like that pop-up before so it was quite risky really. I was trying new things like grilling peas on a fire and trying things out on my own terms. That pop-up became really popular, and one day some guys from a restaurant in Mayfair came round and tried my grilled grouse dish. They asked if I wanted to join a restaurant which was called Kitty Fisher’s. I joined them, and once we opened it became an overnight success to a ridiculous extent. It was a perfect storm – the timing worked, they had connections, and it just grew quickly. That’s where I got to hone my cooking style further. Later on, my business partner Ben (who had been my best friend for about ten years) opened a restaurant called the Smoking Goat. He gave me the opportunity to open my own place upstairs, and that became Brat.

What does ‘Brat’ mean?

Brat is an old word for turbot – our signature is a whole turbot cooked over flame, which is a recipe from the Basque country. It also means ‘apron’ in Welsh, so everyone who’s Welsh and comes to the restaurant thinks I’ve named it after an apron!

Tomos Parry Rexclub

What have you learned while finding your focus in the culinary world?

When I was growing up, I thought everyone was an expert on everything. So if you were a chef, you could cook every type of cuisine. If you’re a filmmaker, you could work on all genres of film. But actually, the more focus you have, the better. Giving yourself absolute boundaries is important for finding your expertise, and it doesn’t even have to necessarily be what you like most.

What advice would you give to young chefs?

Have perspective and see perfection in imperfection. That’s a big deal in my restaurant and within teams in general. For example, you can’t always hire the perfect team, but you have to maximise certain qualities from different people to make it work. It applies to things like plating up, too. People can get too focused on detail, rather than just ensuring the food is great. There’s a lot of pressure on young chefs at the moment: they’re in the kitchen all hours and then they look on Instagram and their mates around the world are doing cool things in the culinary world. The constant comparison is so hard, and you’re never really happy with your own work. So, keeping the sense of perspective there is really important.

We know you have a love of sports. Did you develop that passion at a young age?

Absolutely. I started playing rugby and football in school – you can’t really avoid it in Wales even if you wanted to! Football is my first love because I’m from North Wales, and a lot of my family work in football. I used to play at a better level than I did for rugby, I went to the trials for Everton and things like that. I wasn’t that good – I was mainly just really enthusiastic. Actually, it turns out I was at a trial camp with Wayne Rooney when I was younger. The trials must have gone better for him than they did for me!


Tomos Parry Rexclub

Do you have any stand-out sports memories?

I was in Japan for the Rugby World Cup, cooking with WagyuMafia. I got to watch a few games and some training sessions, and lots of the players came into the restaurant. It was an amazing experience to get to know some amazing players and cook great food at the same time.

Do you find any commonalities between cooking and sport?

I draw lots of inspiration from the Basque Country, and it’s interesting because sports and food are so interlinked there. There are tonnes of similarities between sports and cooking. Setbacks, for example. Both in sport and in kitchens, you can have some really tough setbacks or work with some difficult people and you have to pull yourself through. Equally with teamwork, you have to rely on each other so much both in cooking and sport. The kitchen is one of the most democratic workspaces: you can be from any walk of life and become a chef with the same chances as anyone else. You can start as an unqualified kitchen porter and make it to the top, which is rare. In other industries, there are high barriers to stop you from entering, or you need to know the right people. So you get a huge mix of people in each team, which means you need to understand how to blend a team of different personalities well.

Tomos Parry Rexclub
Tomos Parry Rexclub

Does sport have a place in the kitchen at all?

I use football analogies in the kitchen a lot. Especially when it comes to talking about management, there’s a lot of parallels on the field and the kitchen. The best managers aren’t always the best players, so I always tell chefs that you don’t need to be the best at everything to make it to the top. Chefs can get dishearted when they realise that they’re not as quick as the person next to them, but they don’t need to be. Some people are just leaders more than they’re players.

Do you manage to find time to indulge your love of sports outside of work?

Of course! I have my two kids and my career, and then the rest of my diary is just sports. It’s also great bonding for a team. We employ about thirty different nationalities and that was great during the Euros: everyone got involved and always had something to say.


 

“The kitchen is one of the most democratic workspaces: you can be from any walk of life and become a chef with the same chances as anyone else.”

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Jim Hamilton


MAULS TO MEDIA

 

interview by Naomi Prakash

JIM HAMILTON

 

photography by Oscar J Ryan

Jim Hamilton Rexclub

Jim Hamilton is a retired rugby player with 63 international games for Scotland under his belt. He spent time at Leicester Tigers, Edinburgh Rugby, Gloucester Rugby, Montpellier Herault and Saracens. He now works in rugby media, and is the host of the massively popular The Rugby Pod.

Jim Hamilton Rexclub

Let’s start at the beginning. How did you get into rugby?

Growing up, my path was always the military. My Dad was in the special forces for 30 years, and all my mates at school were going down that same trajectory. But then I failed my medical because my height-weight ratio didn’t marry up – I was fit as a fiddle but my BMI said I was obese! I was devastated when that happened at the age of sixteen. I joined a local club called Barkers’ Butts, which is quite a famous club in Coventry.
The club’s seen Neil Back, Leon Lloyd who played for Leicester on the wing, Tom Wood who went on to make fifty-odd caps for England, and Rob Hardwick. I was playing there quite a bit and also got a job behind the bar. I wasn’t great at the game but my size gave me the potential to make something of it. I played for Warwickshire under-18s against Leicestershire, and a bit of a fight kicked off on the field. Later, I got graded 4/10 for the game and didn’t think much else of it. The next Tuesday, Dean Richards rings the club and started asking about me. I ended up being fast- tracked into Leicester while I was also working a building site job as an apprentice. Leicester then sent me on a sabbatical to South Africa, and that’s where my life changed really. I started training properly and doing weights, and I started to see an opportunity emerge in rugby. Leicester Tigers gave me a life, not just as a rugby player but as a man, and as a human being. It helped me see a light at the end of the tunnel that I hadn’t seen since the army rejection.

Was there anyone in your life who specifically inspired you to get into rugby?

I lived in Coventry and went to a pretty rough school, and I was a bit of a rogue. I remember a teacher, Clark McCallum, telling me “it doesn’t matter how good, big or small you are, there’s a place for everyone in the rugby team here”. Once I got into school rugby, it was a different group of friends I had. For the first time, I felt included and part of a team.

How was playing in academies for you?

Academies were pretty different then. I entered one at 17 and there were loads of lads in there; we played matches pretty much every week and had tonnes of development opportunities. If you weren’t at university or school, you had to have a job. My first academy contract was only for three-and-a-half grand a year, and they paid expenses for my job. Then I was sent to South Africa, which was the game-changer for me. I came back trained and two stone heavier. That’s when I decided I wanted to try and be a professional rugby player and leave labouring behind.

You played with Leicester Tigers at the height of their dominance. How was that experience?

It was unbelievable. Looking back, they were the best years of my life. I was around so many normal, hard- working men who were also just incredible rugby players. I fit in there because it was all about physicality, fighting, and domination. It was all about earning your stripes there and they focused on that winning culture. I’d never had that before in my life so I loved being in a team like that. After South Africa, I got picked for some age-grade games for England and it was all because of Leicester.

You left Leicester in 2008 to move up to Edinburgh. How was that transition?

It was a big decision. It all started after a game against Newcastle when their Scottish coach was asking whether I was Scottish – the name is a bit of a giveaway! Things flowed from there. I realised that I had a reputation of being a bit of a lad in Leicester, and I was missing some credibility. Around the age of 22, I needed to get to that next level and I felt I needed to move onto the international opportunities that would come with Scotland. I’m very glad I made that decision.

What was behind your move away from Scotland?

Edinburgh and Scotland are amazing, I lived there as a kid so it has special roots for me. I moved up with my then-girlfriend and now-wife and we made amazing memories here, but there were some issues in the club. I felt I’d done all I could do with Edinburgh: we played really well and finished second in the league, and I had an opportunity to move back to the Premiership which I was well suited for. I considered Paris, but I went for the Gloucester opportunity in the end.

How was your time with Gloucester?

I left Edinburgh after a career-threatening injury, but luckily I had really revolutionary treatment over in Europe. That was a big factor in not being able to stay longer or play as many games as I’d have liked with Edinburgh. After I sorted myself out, I went to Gloucester. It was quite similar to Leicester: a traditional club with a real fanbase in the city; the heartbeat of Gloucester is their rugby team and I loved it. There was a great bunch of lads, old school vibe. I was Captain there, and then France came knocking again.

What are your highlights from your time with the club?

Well if you YouTube “Jim Hamilton Gloucester” you’ll see a fight that went viral and got over 2 million views. I don’t know whether that’s a highlight or not! We won the LV Cup, the big one, in my first season. I made some lifelong friends, and being Captain was amazing.

You then moved to play with Montpellier. How did you adjust to the culture of France?

Moving to France was a big move. There aren’t many success stories from lads going there. I went in the prime of my career, which wasn’t the plan but a lot of things just lined up. The idea of raising a family by the beach was a bit of a dream too. I started immersing myself in the culture but it was very different. Fabian Galthié was the Head Coach and it was a bit of a nightmare. Things could just be chaotic. It isn’t a reflection on France or the club, but I just didn’t think I fit in there. I missed playing for Scotland too, and I was on the cusp of making the Lions tour. Missing out on that kept me hungry to get back over to the UK, and then Saracens popped up.

You moved to Saracens in 2014. What are your biggest takeaways from your time with the club?

We won two European titles, and it was amazing to have those two bookends for my career that were my most successful points, with Leicester and Saracens. I cannot speak highly enough about Saracens, not just about their work on the pitch but also how they operate when they’re off it as well. The stars aligned while I was there, I probably shouldn’t have been able to play as many times as I did but I was on for seventy-odd games with them.

How was the social side of Saracens?

It was wicked. We went on compulsory trips to Bordeaux, Miami, skiing, everywhere. It tightened the group together and as a young man that’s just so enjoyable. Saracens are all about building the person, and they really mean that. They looked after me and my family by investing time in me, and supporting my endeavors off the pitch too.

You debuted against Romania for Scotland in 2006. Was that one of your career highlights?

I grew into my Scotland role. I was fast-tracked in so I didn’t feel the same warmth that I could’ve if I came through the system. I was the thousandth man to play for Scotland though, which was big. We had titanic issues and it wasn’t always easy but I made amazing memories. We beat Argentina back-to-back, nearly won the World Cup in 2007, and in 2010 we beat Ireland at Croke Park. Playing Australia on my 50th cap was a special moment, and it was arguably the best game I played. Playing for Scotland was my life. I do have regrets: I was very aggressive and caught up in the emotion of the game, but at the end of my career I decided to simply enjoy it all.

Jim Hamilton Rexclub
Jim Hamilton Rexclub

When did you start thinking about life after rugby?

This is the cloud that follows every sportsman. It’s hard because the minute you start thinking about retirement, you start to lose focus. But you have to. I toyed with the idea of coaching, and I loved it but didn’t have the commitment to give it justice. Then Saracens encouraged me to do some interviews with the boys, and I was playing with some high-profile players so I had a good base there. The show we made was called ‘Don’t Mess With Jim’. People liked it, and I fell more into media work. To be successful, I think you need an element of desperation. For me, it was a drive to find something new to look forward to. When I got started, I wanted to be unfiltered. We started the podcast because it was fun and we never expected anything, and five years later we have a deal with Spotify. I’ve worked with BT Sport and some other great places, and it all comes from being authentic.

What did you learn from playing ruby that you still use in your everyday life?

No one’s going to do anything for you. You’re accountable for what happens, and you can’t rely on other people to do your job. Rugby is a team sport, but you still need to work as hard as you can individually to make that work. If you work hard and give it everything you’ve got, then success will come. Also, when you face a setback, it’s about how you recover. Similar to an injury in sport and worrying about contracts, having a mental ground that enables you to work towards the next positive stage is so important.

What was the biggest change you faced when you retired?


Being on my own. Especially motivating myself alone and finding my identity and purpose. It’s a common answer among ex-rugby players: you get used to having the lads around you all the time and having great craic with your friends constantly. You sort of get institutionalised too, your food is always there for you, things like that. I love people, and I do get to enjoy that in my jobs now. The biggest void is just missing that team environment.

Jim Hamilton Rexclub

How did The Rugby Pod idea come about?

It was the last year of Saracens, and the opportunity came through my agent. I loved podcasts and they wanted me to host one, and my one condition was that it was to be candid, funny and a bit rude. It’s almost an alter-ego for me. We did it because we wanted to, not for the money, and the organic growth into things like live shows has just been mental. We’ll get thousands coming to see us and it’s raised my profile massively – it’s really weird! It’s five years old now, and we were the first rugby podcast out there. We’ve now been able to get sponsors, and we were the first UK podcast that Spotify licensed.

Do live shows rattle you at all, or do they come naturally?

I do get nervous. It means a lot to me that people pay to come, so I want to deliver. I’d be thinking of different sketches and delivery like I was a comedian! It gives me an identity that I would have missed after rugby, otherwise you go from being “Jim the Rugby Player” to missing that part of you completely.

What has changed over the last five years doing the podcast?

We had to keep evolving. We can no longer get by on shock factor. It’s an element of growth and I find that the stronger your profile gets, the more people follow you because they actually don’t like you. I understand that, but I struggled with it as a player. There’s always someone who doesn’t like you, and that’s just part of the job I’m in now.

What are your future ambitions?

I do a job with Rugby Pass where I make documentaries and get to travel all over the world. I love doing that, and I actually nearly had a deal with Netflix to do a lifestyle documentary. My dream scenario would be to continue documentaries and podcasts. I’m a storyteller by nature I think, and that’s my purpose.

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Al Hargreaves


WOLFPACK LAGER

 

interview by Naomi Prakash

ALISTAIR HARGREAVES

 

photography by Oscar J Ryan

Al Hargreaves Rexclub

“Wolfpack means bringing people together and gaining that sense of camaraderie that you get from doing something that’s greater than yourself. More than anything, lockdown has taught us that life is better when it’s spent together.The strength of the wolf is in its pack, and we believe that wholeheartedly.”

Al Hargreaves Rexclub

Alistair Hargreaves is a former professional rugby player from South Africa. He retired from the game in 2016 after playing with Saracens, and started planning his next move. He launched Wolfpack Lager in 2014 alongside fellow Saracens teammate Chris Wyles, with the goal of bringing the rugby spirit to the world of beer. We sat down with Alistair to talk about rugby, his international experiences, and his entrepreneurial journey.

Can you tell us about growing up in South Africa? Was sport always a central theme for you even as a child?

Yeah absolutely. In South Africa you’re born with a cricket ball, a rugby ball and a football in your hands! It’s certainly an outdoor life and a lot of your social interactions from a very young age revolve around not only playing sports, but also watching sport with friends and family. It’s a sports-mad country and it’s a real privilege to grow up there.

When did rugby start to emerge as the front runner of the few?

When I was younger we just played everything, whatever you could get your hands on really! Primarily I played rugby and cricket, and as I got a bit older I found that I had more opportunities in rugby, and decided that it was the one sport that I could probably turn into a professional career.

When did rugby start to seem like a viable career path for you?

It was probably around the age of 16. I started to understand where I’d like to study, what kind of union club in South Africa I could sign up for, and I guess the pressures of playing junior rugby in South African teams started to dominate a lot of my time. You start to think, “well hang on, if I’m going to put all this effort in, I better make it count”.

Was it always your goal to become a full Springbok International?

That’s an interesting question – probably not actually, I reckon I grew up wanting to be South African cricketer more than anything! But it’s all about opportunity and of course, getting some luck along the way.

The further your career develops, the more these things start becoming a reality and the Springbok idea started coming into my mind a bit later on. I certainly didn’t sign my first professional contract going, “wow, I could end up playing for the Springboks”.

You first played for your hometown team The Sharks around 2005, and then had your first Super Rugby debut in 2009.

For the uninitiated reader, what was the big difference between these two types of competition?

I played South African schools and under-19s in a few World Cups, and the jump from that under-19s level, even just provincial rugby at a senior level, was massive. I was a tall skinny guy back in those days and I was told that I’d need to find 10kg from somewhere before I was allowed to play for the senior team with The Sharks. They basically locked me in the gym for a year to train and to bulk up. The physical step-up was huge from that schoolboy level into the professional game. My career really started in 2005, and over the next ten years the general physical nick of the players just got extreme, and it’s just kept growing year on year.

When did you first hear that you’d been selected to tour with the Springboks?

I was actually at a friend’s wedding. You always hear a few rumours and I’d had one of the assistant coaches give me a tap on the shoulder saying I had a good chance. But I was at this wedding, speeches were starting, and I thought I’d just creep out just in case it happened. I ended up sitting in a hotel pub myself watching the team get announced on tv! It’s really quite surreal, and obviously being at a wedding I couldn’t run back in and say “hey everyone, forget

the wedding – I’ve just been chosen!”. I tend to be very quiet and very humble, and it was only later in the evening when someone else figured it out and asked if I’d heard the announcement. It’s one of those incredibly rewarding moments, and that feeling of accomplishment quickly changes to the awareness that it’s a huge responsibility. I remember hoping that I’d make the most of it and prepare properly and just thinking, “wow, what happens next?”.

You made your debut against Wales in a very tightly fought win. What are your biggest memories from that day?

The best part of it for me was actually driving in the team bus to the stadium. You drive through Cardiff and you see these crowds filtering out onto the street, just thousands and thousands of people. Obviously driving in the big green Springbok bus, you’re just a target for everyone and everything! It’s amazing just to look at it through that lens, and to see how much passion there is for the game out there. It was something truly spectacular and I’ll never forget it.

After 2012 you made a pretty radical decision to move to England to join the Premiership powerhouse Saracens. What was the main driving factor behind this decision for you?

There were a couple of things really. My international career didn’t pan out with many caps international rugby, I only played four times for the Springboks in test matches. It got to the point where, with my club The Sharks in Durban, I’d lost a bit of passion for the team, the game, and the environment. I was thinking of hanging up the boots. I was about 26 and I had just fallen out of love with rugby if I’m honest with myself.

“It’s good to have a certain amount of fear”

It’s quite interesting to reflect now on the space that I was in. I never really had any ambition to move overseas to play rugby. I always thought that rugby was a great part of my life and that I was very privileged to do it, but I was also looking forward to the next challenge. When the Saracens opportunity came about, I already had a lot of South African friends playing with the club. They all said there were some fantastic players, and to give it a try. I said to my girlfriend at the time, who’s now my wife, “what do we have to lose?”. We thought we could spend some time in London, see what it’s all about and have some fun. It was the best decision I ever made. I absolutely loved my time at Saracens and in the UK, and I’m now settled in London with a young family. I’m very pleased I took that leap of faith.

What were your first impressions of England?

I came straight into pre-season so you don’t really have much time to explore anything outside of your team environment and the people that you’re actually playing rugby with, so I just got immersed in the culture that existed at Saracens at the time. I was very lucky that it was a like-minded bunch of people – there’s a kind of policy that Saracens only sign players who had some reference from within the team, so there’s a lot of guys who knew each other and played each other at previous clubs, so I got along well with everyone. I absolutely loved it. I must say it was a tough pre-season, and I had a bit of an eye-opening experience. I got called in

very early to the coaches office just to say, “listen if you think just because you played a few games for the Springboks that you’re going to be a legend at Saracens, think again”. You need to work very hard and earn the right to have a great social life and enjoy the Saracens culture, which I think I did and made the most of. It wasn’t a culture shock because the club did a really good job of helping me fit in, and like I said I really loved the vibe and the atmosphere that they had created.

Saracens have a strong reputation of being a very close-knit family club. Did you feel that straight from beginning?

Yeah definitely. When I left my old club, I felt a little bit disillusioned with the whole thing. I felt that a lot of people say it’s a family atmosphere and that they all love each other and care, but you know at the end of the day, you were there to do a job. And it started feeling like a job to me. Saracens felt like quite a lot more than that, and I thought that people actually did care and they actually did look out for you like your family. They wanted you to have great memories away from the game as well, and for me having that freedom, to not be treated like a machine, really made me feel accountable. There’s a huge lesson in leadership for me there, and I think a lot of those values that I learnt about how to inspire people and motivate people have stuck with me to this day, and apply to my business now.

Al Hargreaves Rexclub

You became Captain in 2014 and led the
team to Premiership glory by 2015. Was this your peak in terms of highlights from your time in the Red and Black?

Yeah, like I said when I came over, I had no expectations of even playing for the club, so to lift the Premiership trophy at Twickenham was spectacular. It’s the highlight of my career – I absolutely loved every second of it. We went on to win European Cups and more Premierships, but that first one was something that was truly special because it was so out of the blue in a way. I would never have thought that I would be on that stage, in this country, having a moment like that. To share it with a bunch of people that I absolutely loved was such a massive accomplishment.

You became Captain in 2014 and led the
team to Premiership glory by 2015. Was this your peak in terms of highlights from your time in the Red and Black?

Yeah, like I said when I came over, I had no expectations of even playing for the club, so to lift the Premiership trophy at Twickenham was spectacular. It’s the highlight of my career – I absolutely loved every second of it. We went on to win European Cups and more Premierships, but that first one was something that was truly special because it was so out of the blue in a way. I would never have thought that I would be on that stage, in this country, having a moment like that. To share it with a bunch of people that I absolutely loved was such a massive accomplishment.

Al Hargreaves Rexclub

“We just want to create brilliant experiences for social people, and we want to have the most fun we possibly can doing it!”

Concussions in rugby are obviously a very topical subject now. Did they feel serious to you at the time?

They did, and that’s why I’m glad we took them so seriously. It’s good to have a certain amount of fear, because you’re armed with the knowledge that if you don’t treat it with respect then you could get yourself into trouble. That was really the final nail in the coffin for me, when before games I was actually worried about my physical health, and after games I would be relieved if I made it through. I think the most important thing is having awareness and education around what concussion looks like and how to treat it. Prevention is an area we can work on, but I think it’s always going to be impossible to completely eradicate concussion from the game. If we can recognise it and learn how to help people recover from it, then that’s what we should be aiming to do.

Do you think there’s anything we can do to reduce the repercussions of head injuries in rugby?

I don’t think it’s good enough to ever just accept that it’s going to be an essential part of playing the game. There will always be instances, hopefully rarely, of concussions if rugby continues to be played the way it is now. I think there’s a stigma and an old school mentality that you have to be hard and brush it all off and get back up. That has to fall away. We know how severe these

things are, and we see people getting hit time and time again with signs of concussions. But they carry on! So we need to be cautious with those borderline cases. The alternative is banning tackling, which is an absolute disaster. Collisions in rugby are really the pinnacle of the sport.

While you were still playing in 2014, you decided to set up your beer business, Wolfpack, with Chris Wyles. How did this idea first come about between the two of you?

Over a couple of beers, unsurprisingly! The club was really good at exposing us to other industries outside of sport, and Chris was thinking about doing an MBA at the time. We started discussing what we’re going to do after rugby, and through the club we met a few well-respected industry veterans and CEOs. They always told us that the skills we learnt in rugby were pretty useless unless we could demonstrate that we could apply them to real life. That inspired us to consider starting something ourselves, and to tap into the support system of the club. Being rugby players, we’re never too far from a pint or two and at the time, craft beer was growing massively. It started as a hobby and we bought a double-decker bus, and started selling beer from there. We used to turn up at the stadium and sell beer just on the outskirts of where the commercial contracts applied! Seven years later, we’re still going strong

What’s the vision behind Wolfpack?

It’s an extension of our personalities and our experiences in sport. At the very heart, Chris and I are social animals, as are the people we played rugby with. Part of the ethos of any sporting team is that you put in the hard work and then you reap the rewards off the back of it. We really try to create that camaraderie that you get in a team environment around the Wolfpack brand. We just want to create brilliant experiences for social people, and we want to have the most fun we possibly can doing it! Brewing beer and running bars for a living is as fun as it sounds, so we’re just enjoying the journey and keen to keep pushing ourselves as much as we can.

Before the idea behind Wolfpack came about, had you ever thought about starting your own business?

I was always focused on having something for after rugby. You know, when you asked me earlier if I grew up wanting to be a Springbok, I think the reason I didn’t was just because it doesn’t seem like a sustainable job for the long haul. I didn’t necessarily think it would be a brewery or that I’d be in London, those things came about through circumstance and through meeting Chris who really inspired me and gave me the belief that we could really do it.

“Sharing highs and lows in sport prepares you well for being an entrepreneur and running a business.”

How is working with a friend and a teammate? Do you ever wish you were just business partners?

It’s been brilliant. When you play in such a close environment with someone, you go through a lot of experiences together and show a lot of vulnerability. Sharing highs and lows in sport prepares you well for being an entrepreneur and running a business. It comes with a lot of sacrifice and it’s not always an easy ride, but we trust each other implicitly and that’s been the cornerstone of our business relationship.

How did you land on the name Wolfpack, and what does that mean for you both?

It started at Saracens. We always used to talk about having a wolfpack mentality, and we thought it was a great name for a brand that was built from the idea of building bonds within communities. Wolfpack means bringing people together and gaining that sense of camaraderie that you get from doing something that’s greater than yourself. More than anything, lockdown has taught us that life is better when it’s spent together. The strength of the wolf is in its pack, and we believe that wholeheartedly.

Speaking of lockdowns, how did the pandemic affect your business and you personally?

It’s difficult because you lose momentum. We like to be busy, and you want your brand to be constantly growing. Being forced to stay at home for a year was pretty devastating, but I’m actually

really proud of what we’ve been able to achieve as a business in the last year. We started an online store and have been very active on social media. We actually kitted out an old Land Rover with beer taps and drove around giving away free beer for weeks at a time, just to let people know that we’re still here and we’re not going anywhere.

How has the last year changed your business goals?

We’ve always been quite open to change, I think that’s a reason why we’re still going after seven years despite the ups and downs. We always want to make sure that we’re able to adapt to different circumstances, and that’s the beauty of being a small and young business in a very big category of hospitality. Our strength is that our team is four people. It’s a strength that we don’t have a huge marketing budget so we’ve got to think out the box and do things differently. I think after this lockdown, we’ll come out of this stronger. We just have to be open to change.

Our final question… if and when the Lions tour goes ahead, who do you see coming out on top?

Well a lot of it is down to where it’s being played. If it’s in South Africa, you have to back the Springboks. The international season in the southern hemisphere has been basically non-existent, so those guys will be out of practice. Put it this way, if it’s not in South Africa, I think the Lions will come out on top.

Al Hargreaves Rexclub

Nick De Luca


THE PROFESSIONAL MINDSET

 

interview by Naomi Prakash

NICK DE LUCA

 

photography by Oscar J Ryan

Nick De Luca Rexclub

“I had three goals in life: to be a fighter pilot, an 100m Olympic champion, and to play rugby for my country. Very ambitious! I soon realised I wasn’t fast enough for the Olympic dream, I realised the army life wasn’t for me so I really zoned in on the rugby path.“

Nick De Luca Rexclub

Nick De Luca knows the game of rugby inside-out. He played at centre for Edinburgh, Border Reivers, Biarritz, Wasps and Scotland over a career that spanned 12 years and included 43 international caps. Post retirement, Nick has taken up the role of Director of Rugby at Uppingham School and is also a fully qualified MHFA (Mental Health Fitness Advisor) instructor. We discuss his time playing the game, and his insights into the emotional aspects of rugby and coaching.

When did you first realise that you had a passion for rugby?

I’m not known for my memory, but I do remember playing rugby from the tender age of four. I had three goals in life: to be a fighter pilot, an 100m Olympic champion, and to play rugby for my country. Very ambitious! I soon realised I wasn’t fast enough for the Olympic dream I realised the army life wasn’t for me, so I really zoned in on the rugby path. It wasn’t long until I was being called ‘Rugby Nick’ and it’s really just been an incredible journey from there, with some massive highs but also devastating lows.

What path did you take into the professional ranks?

I was very fortunate, I think. Millions of kids want to be a professional player nowadays. Of course, hard work and deliberate practice is crucial, but luck and timing is a massive part of it. I was at Lockerbie Academy and we didn’t even have a rugby programme, we had a rugby team but we were terrible! In fact I often had to go round and convince my football friends to come play so the game would even happen. I got spotted by a few coaches and I was brought into the Under 16s before I went to play with Edinburgh. Eventually, I got a full contract for Scotland, I think I played every range you could before that point!

You graduated from Edinburgh University before becoming a professional rugby player. Was further education always important to you?

In a way – I studied sports science at university but to be honest, I didn’t take it overly seriously. At the time, it was very much to appease my lovely mother who said, “well if you’re going to play rugby, you should really study at university too”. And she was right – I’m so glad she said that and encouraged me to keep my options open.

In my last couple of years at university, I was in the Scotland sevens squad and I was starting to break through, so studies fell on the back burner. I’ve always been grateful that I got my undergraduate degree, I gained a lot of great knowledge and connections. I also think I needed those few years for personal development before going fully into rugby

You spent the majority of your playing career in Edinburgh. What were some of the highlights from your time there?

I spent about nine or ten years in Edinburgh, so as you can imagine there was a huge range of highs and lows. People assume that the highs will be the games, but often it’s the people and the shared experiences. Saying that, getting to the semi finals of the Heineken Cup was probably one of my highlights when thinking about the game itself – although maybe I should be saying the quarter final was the highlight, since we actually won that! It’s just amazing to find yourself in those upper echelons of European rugby and winning some big games on the way. The year Andy Robinson was in charge was a good season for me personally. I got into the Celtic League and that was the first year that I felt like I belonged. It felt really nice to get recognition from the wider community.

We were lucky that the weather was nice for that first lockdown, so spirits remained pretty high and people got some well-earned rest in too. I think even outside of sport, a lot of the public went on a bit of a health-kick, and we definitely saw that happen within the club.

In 2014 you made the decision to move to Biarritz to play for two seasons. Did you always want to play abroad?

To be honest, for the first few years of my career I didn’t look very far ahead. I’d thought about moving before but the timing didn’t line up well with my family’s

In my last couple of years at university, I was in the Scotland sevens squad and I was starting to break through, so studies fell on the back burner. I’ve always been grateful that I got my undergraduate degree, I gained a lot of great knowledge and connections. I also think I needed those few years for personal development before going fully into rugby

You spent the majority of your playing career in Edinburgh. What were some of the highlights from your time there?

I spent about nine or ten years in Edinburgh, so as you can imagine there was a huge range of highs and lows. People assume that the highs will be the games, but often it’s the people and the shared experiences. Saying that, getting to the semi finals of the Heineken Cup was probably one of my highlights when thinking about the game itself – although maybe I should be saying the quarter final was the highlight, since we actually won that! It’s just amazing to find yourself in those upper echelons of European rugby and winning some big games on the way. The year Andy Robinson was in charge was a good season for me personally. I got into the Celtic League and that was the first year that I felt like I belonged. It felt really nice to get recognition from the wider community.

We were lucky that the weather was nice for that first lockdown, so spirits remained pretty high and people got some well-earned rest in too. I think even outside of sport, a lot of the public went on a bit of a health-kick, and we definitely saw that happen within the club.

In 2014 you made the decision to move to Biarritz to play for two seasons. Did you always want to play abroad?

To be honest, for the first few years of my career I didn’t look very far ahead. I’d thought about moving before but the timing didn’t line up well with my family’s

When did you first realise that you had a passion for rugby?

It was closer to the forefront actually! I had already retired and played my last game of rugby in France, or so I thought. In France, they effectively give you two years pay (up to a certain amount) to let you train or to sort yourself out. It’s a really wonderful thing for allowing a smoother transition and giving you time to develop other skills. I had planned on just taking that, and I had just finished my MBA, which I was going to use as a launchpad to start a different life in the city. But then there was a phone call that meantI could choose to roll the dice one more time. I thought, alright, let’s have another crack at it. In hindsight, for that first year I’d have been better off financially if I’d stayed where I was, but often things happen for a reason. I really wanted to try for the Premiership, which I hadn’t done before, especially after my playing career in France didn’t go exactly as I would have hoped.

You took on the job of Head of Rugby at Uppingham School in 2017. What made you want to go down the teaching/coaching avenue?

When playing rugby full-time, I thought I’d go down a relatively well-trodden path into the city in some kind of financial role. However, when I started reflecting on my time coming up through the ranks, I realised that I didn’t always feel like I was well looked after. As a senior player, I thought I might be able to help remedy that a bit to get the best out of the young guys playing. I always enjoyed that side of things, and when I started thinking about earning a living outside of rugby to support my young family, teaching seemed to align with my passions and skills very naturally. It sounds very grand, but I do believe

You graduated from Edinburgh University before becoming a professional rugby player. Was further education always important to you?

In a way – I studied sports science at university but to be honest, I didn’t take it overly seriously. At the time, it was very much to appease my lovely mother who said, “well if you’re going to play rugby, you should really study at university too”. And she was right – I’m so glad she said that and encouraged me to keep my options open.

that teachers impact their students’ lives, and so it’s one of the most important jobs in the world. Every year I see hundreds of kids that I can potentially help shape through teaching and coaching. Besides the obvious skill development, I’m really focused on good morals and kind-heartedness. I’d love to see one of our pupils become a stand-up Prime Minister one day, with good values and a lot of empathy.

How has school been different this year?

There’s been a lot of time spent online, which is rough for everyone’s mental health really. Uppingham has been brilliant with implementing the right protocols, like private testers on a regular basis. Obviously, we have to abide by the governing body guidelines. They basically limit the type of interactions we can have, and it means concentrating a lot on equipment hygiene. Once you get used to it, it really just becomes routine and like normal set up. We didn’t have any cases last term, which was incredible, because we basically exist as a giant bubble. I’ve personally been spending a lot of time in my front room with my young kids around. Our garden, trampoline and swings have been a real lifesaver!

How has your job changed this year?

Obviously my work isn’t a natural fit for online teaching, so I’m being as creative and purposeful as possible. I’ve been doing a lot of physical and mental challenges with the kids, to really test their limits in different ways. Physically, they’ve been trying everything from yoga to cricket skills, and we’ve been bringing in a few guest speakers to keep them motivated and inspired.

Nick De Luca Rexclub

We actually had Rex Club’s own Hamish Watson as a speaker a few weeks ago!

After retirement, you became a youth
Mental Health Fitness Advisor. What inspired you to do this? And does having these skills help day-to-day with the pastoral care involved with the teaching?

When I came back to play with the Wasps, I took on a sort of big brother or fatherly role with some of the younger players. I got a real buzz from helping them and seeing their improvement, and I thought that coaching could be something for me. I’ve always been really interested in psychology, and that inspired me to go after the Mental Health Fitness Advisor training. When I started teaching, I was very serious about the impact I could potentially have on the young lives I was getting involved with. I would hate to miss something and not be able to help, because some things aren’t reversible. Mental health awareness can be quite reactive, looking for signs and symptoms. That’s not a bad thing, but I also want to be more proactive in my role. The majority of diagnosable mental health illnesses are already established by the end of the teenage years, so in a school environment we’re really well placed to make a difference. Every interaction you have with someone impacts them negatively or positively – it’s very rarely neutral.

Nick De Luca Rexclub

The training has helped me to feel much more confident when asking some big questions and talking about serious topics. Now every time I interact with a kid I’m consciously trying to pay into their emotional bank account, instead of taking away from it.

What have you taken from your own experience to use in your teaching?

I always took feedback quite personally when I was younger, I sometimes even got quite competitive with my coaches over it. Instead of seeing it like a gift, it was almost like a personal attack to me. I’ve unpacked that in terms of how it related to my identity, and as a coach I wanted to make sure that I was able to give feedback well. You have to build that trust in those relationships. Once you have that trust and after you’ve paid loads into their emotional bank account, then if every so often you say something that hurts their pride then it doesn’t destroy the relationship. Instead the players can see it for what it is: impartial feedback. It’s nothing to do with them as a person, it’s simply to make you a better player and a happier, healthier person. I love the Maya Angelou quote, that “people forget what you’ve done and what you’ve achieved, but they never forget the way you make them feel”. Having little things like that at the forefront of my mind keep me going in the right direction.

Nick De Luca Rexclub

In 2018 you were in the papers discussing your thoughts and experiences concerning mental well-being and its role within rugby.
Can you tell us more about this, and how we can help young players?

There’s definitely some massive issues that players face when transitioning from our professional world. When you play in a rugby team, you have this incredible community around you and you’re all fighting for the same thing. You build these really intense relationships, then suddenly they’re gone. On top of that, you can go from working 4 hours a day as a player to 100 hours a week, and from concentrating only on your own development to working in a completely different environment. Financially, you can struggle if you didn’t set yourself up properly. Rugby is getting better in terms of professional payment, but my generation and earlier definitely still need to work to pay our mortgages.

The big thing, for me at least, was the change in identity. I was always ‘Rugby Nick’, and you can get in trouble when you tie your identity too strongly to one thing. If I played badly one day, I’d lose confidence in every aspect of myself, because I placed all of my value in my ability to play rugby. When I had my kids, I was suddenly more than rugby. I was something bigger and more important, and I found that when I was doing other things or concentrating

on other realms of my life, my rugby was much better. Players need to have other skills that they can build during their rugby career, because it can be taken away at any moment. Sport is not your identity; it’s a canvas to express your identity. To be able to do that properly, you need to know who you are and what you’re about. It’s going to be really interesting over the next few years, because a lot of people have had sporting careers dashed because of coronavirus, Olympic athletes being the prime example.

In terms of our young and emerging players, and preparing them, I think it has to come from the top. If it’s simply encouraging them to pursue a dual career path then they won’t do that themselves, because it’s time wasted away from the gym. Going forward, we should aim to ensure that young players divide their time between rugby and skills training. If their sports career looks promising, that’s brilliant, but if not they have solid career options available. We really need to get that balance right. Plus, it’s important to remember that a lot of the skills taught in rugby can be applied to university and work too. There’s so much emotional, social and psychological training that enables us to create not just brilliant players but also well-adjusted adults in general.

What’s next for you? Do you want to stay in coaching and teaching?

I get such a buzz from being in a position to impact kids’ lives. That could sound very arrogant, but you can see the results in the kids that come out of our rugby programme now compared to when I first arrived. I’ve been able to flip the aspects that I hated from my own career, and give the kids the experience I wish I’d had. Feedback from the parents has been amazing – it really lifts you when you hear you’re making a difference. I think I would struggle to leave that completely behind. I’m an ambitious man, so it would be great to explore other areas of the world and other types of jobs, including things in the city. Maybe further down the line!

How do you rate the Scotland team at present? Do you reckon we’ll see some silverware on display at Murrayfield anytime soon?

The current team is good – they now expect to win their home games which is really cool. We would always say those things but actually I reckon 99% of my team would have had a losing Scottish record. I expect them to be competitive this Six Nations but I don’t see them winning silverware. My heart says yes but my head says no. I think on our best day, Scotland could beat anyone, but to win Six Nations you need to have ‘your day’ at least six times in a row. Plus, you need other teams not to be on their best, ideally! I’ll never lose hope, though.

Tony Walker

Tony Walker Rexclub

In conversation with Exeter Chiefs Team Manager, Tony Walker about how they’ve maintained their growth and success during 2020.

Tony Walker

 

written by Naomi Prakash

photography by Oscar J Ryan

 

 

Exeter currently hold bragging rights for taking the number one spot, in both the English Premiership & European Champions Cup. However, due to COVID-19, finishing off the season was by no means an easy feat, not just regarding performance but also from a logistical perspective. Rex Club sat down with the man behind much of their success, Tony Walker, to chat about how Exeter have continued their success into what has been
a traumatic year for sport.

Tony, can you tell us about what led you to Exeter Chiefs?

I first joined Exeter Chiefs as a player in 2004 after playing in Scotland for seven years. I continued my playing career here until an injury stopped me from going any further. I injured my ACL for the second time, and I wasn’t really in the position to justify rounds of rehab.That was around 2008, and luckily for me, the club was really looking to push into the Premiership around that time. One of the minimum standards to enter the Premiership meant that we needed a Community department, and given some of my previous work up in Scotland on the development side of rugby, I was able to work with Keith Fleming to set up that department for us. In those days, we took on a real variety of tasks, so we all sort of blended into one big group including coaching staff, physios and the medical team.We really started from scratch, and as the club has grown, the departments have gotten a lot bigger and more distinct. From there, I started picking up more admin work, and eventually moved into team management.

Tony Walker Rexclub

What is a typical day as Team Manager for you?

It would probably look a lot differ- ent than what the boys around here would tell you I do! The first thing about managing the team is that my door is always open for staff and play- ers. In order to get to kick-off time at the weekend, there’s a lot of stepping stones to cross throughout the week. Every week looks different; we can be travelling to a different town or coun- try, and it’s all about being prepared. Running the week can often be quite straightforward, but you show your skills when you have an obstacle to deal with. Naturally, there are a lot of them to contend with at the mo- ment with COVID-19! The best thing I can do for myself is to stay organ- ised.That’s the key to making sure all the boxes are ticked, which includes the small but important things that might get overlooked, like visas for travelling to games. Now that there are so many more rules in place, we have to be even more on top of the rules and regulations in and around the game.Theoretically, it’s all about making sure the players have what they require to play the game, and each week really is different.

Do you remember when you were first made aware of the pandemic?

The first time I caught wind of the issue was during a family trip to New Zealand. We’d gone away for a fami- ly reunion, and that was around the time that some murmurs of an illness had started, but back then it seemed pretty isolated to a few countries. By the time we were making our way

home through Singapore, it was clear there was a bigger issue brewing. Rumours of lockdowns started, but I don’t think anyone had antici- pated the impact on sport at that point. We were called into a large meeting in March, and at that point it was made clear that this was seri- ous for our health and our families.

How did players continue elements of training when lockdown started?

Soon after that meeting, the lock- down came into effect. All of a sud- den, we had to plan how we’d keep our players going throughout. The strength and conditioning and med- ical teams got their heads together pretty quickly and worked on a solid plan, even though no one knew how long the lockdown would last. Who would’ve thought we’d still be talk- ing about it now, nine months later?! There was a lot to get done: we were literally loading gym kits into peoples’ cars and trying to set up gyms in ga- rages so the boys could train, because once we were locked down there was nothing else we could do.The strength and conditioning and medical teams have been just amazing – the plan they put in place for the players is proba- bly what kept them going and put us in the strong position we’re in now.

We were lucky that the weath- er was nice for that first lockdown, so spirits remained pretty high and people got some well-earned rest in too. I think even outside of sport, a lot of the public went on a bit of a health-kick, and we definite- ly saw that happen within the club.

What did you miss the most over the break?

The team here really becomes your second family, and so it was very hard to be away from everyone. When you’re here, everyone picks each oth- er up and keeps team morale steady. It’s really fortunate that our group gets on so well and can joke around, but truly cares about each other too. That’s the stuff I really missed. I can see how some people suffered men- tally over the lockdown, or even in ‘normal times’ when they leave the sporting world to retire. It’s really bizarre to suddenly be without your support system. The people here give you an opportunity to be the best you can, and that’s within the staff team too, not just players. Even now that we’re playing again, we hav- en’t been able to have a beer in the bar or speak to spectators and cel- ebrate the season we have just had with everyone, but let’s hope that can happen as we enter into a new year.

How has pre-season training changed this year?

We do COVID testing every week and as long as we get the right re- sults then everyone can kick on, otherwise you can lose a couple guys for a while. It does add an ex- tra level of pressure – you never want to be missing out especially when it comes down to finals time! Through DCMS and the rugby gov- erning bodies, we came back to start training under ‘stage one guid- ance’ which meant no contact.

So you weren’t allowed to shower or eat at work, social distancing is still really important, and balls and equip- ment used have to be cleaned after each touch. There are five stages of guidelines within rugby to create a pathway back to playing competi- tive rugby and get crowds back in. These guidelines gradually allowed us to increase the amount of contact. Stage three is the return to games, four is cross-border like travelling to France, and stage five allows crowds back in to watch live matches again. But every time you advance a stage, you continue defaulting to the pre- vious ones. So say you’re on stage three, when you’re not playing a game you go back to practicing un- der stage one and two guidelines. The aim is to create an environ- ment where we can maximise training but keep everyone safe

and comfortable at the same time, and getting back to stage five, or back to play as normal, re- ally means that you have to get those first four stages right first.

How has social distancing affected players’ morale?

It’s tough to start with, because nat- urally sports people – and especially rugby players – are very close-knit. You high-five, tackle each other and lift each other up. It’s a very hard sport to transition into individual play, as it’s all about contact and en- couragement. Coming back into a changing room where people are sat metres apart and they can’t chat face- to-face was tough. Now, we’ve gotten so used to social distancing that it’s actually hard for some people to start

reintroducing some contact again, so that’s been a whole new challenge in itself.We as staff are a bit like a nag- ging parents at the moment, as we need to push safety rules, additional admin and checks on a daily basis. We are lucky that the whole team of staff and players understand though, and we know we must get these areas right so we get the chance to play the games at the weekends.

What keeps you inspired when things get tough?

Although this change is unprece- dented, we’re used to adversity in sport. We’ve always got new chal- lenges to rise to. Sometimes you have to look at your situation from the outside to realise how good you have it. We’re playing against some amazing traditional clubs

Tony Walker Rexclub
Tony Walker Rexclub