The Irish Mail on Sunday
FAR FROM DONE
With another European medal on offer Stringer’s drive is greater than ever
PETER Stringer has had better weeks. The aim had been to be in London yesterday for a Premiership semi-final at Saracens. However, Bath blew up in the final rounds of the league and last weekend’s loss at Harlequins meant the club that dominated English rugby when the sport turned professional must wait another season to end a title drought stretching back to 1996.
It was a cruel outcome. Bar a single week in October, Bath had been ever present in the top four the whole way through, but their final day 19-16 defeat meant that Quins – by virtue of games won – squeezed above them and into the play-offs after both sides finished level on points. The lesson was painful. ‘We were sitting in third nearly all year and, realistically, shouldn’t have been going into that game with winner-takes-all.
‘That’s the frustrating thing,’ rues Stringer, the veteran who can recall Bath’s era of dominance as a teenager in Cork.
‘I remember the days growing up watching Bath when they were winning. The club owner, Bruce Craig, is from Bath and he certainly wants to get it back to where it was once upon a time. His ambition is to win the Premiership. We were hoping to get into top four this year and see how we went. It was disappointing but definitely the young guys who have come in have the makings of a great squad.
‘It’s an inexperienced squad in terms of playing together, but I’ve no doubt an experience like the last day at Harlequins will stand to guys in years to come to develop into a great team.’
All isn’t totally lost this season, though. Although idle this weekend, Bath have next Friday’s Amlin Challenge Cup final in Cardiff against domestic rivals Northampton to look forward to. It’s small beer compared to the bigger attraction of the Heineken Cup, but Stringer can’t wait to get back to the Welsh city that was the setting for career highs such as that try to help Munster win the 2006 Heineken Cup final and that pass to set up Ronan O’Gara’s clinching drop goal in Ireland’s 2009 Grand Slam triumph.
‘This Bath team is in its infancy but we’re in a great state of mind going to Cardiff.
‘We’re wounded after the last day and want to experience victory on a massive stage. The hurt of the last few weeks will rub off on guys.’
That Stringer is still performing to such a high standard goes against the grain of the current trend for bigger, stronger, faster athletes.
A 5ft 7in, 73kg nipper should be obsolete in a landscape now inhabited by giants but at 36, an age when so many contemporaries he turned professional with are long retired, the scrum-half with the bullet pass is still going strong. An extension at Bath will take him through to summer 2015 and there are no plans yet to call it quits after that.
I still have the attitude of making the most of [rugby] really,’ he says, explaining his longevity. ‘I look after myself, eat as healthily as I can and just don’t want to be looking back in 10 or 15 years’ time and have a few regrets that if only I have done something different things might have turned out differently.
‘I give myself the best possible opportunity physically to be playing at this level and to continue for as long as possible. I just don’t want to have any regrets and for the body to leave me down. You get the one shot at it and I wouldn’t really be able to live with myself if I left any stone unturned as regards preparation.
‘It’s still a different game for different positions. Mine is primarily based on decision-making, speed of thought, getting around the pitch as quickly as I can and giving other guys opportunities to get the ball in their hands.
‘It’s a strength of my game and with players getting bigger, stronger and the fact it’s becoming tougher, it takes a lot of analysis to break teams down and come up with new ideas. That’s what I enjoy, coming up with things to break down defences.
ILOVE the game, I’m passionate about it, I’m still learning and still willing to admit there are things I need to work on continuously, things that I’m good at as well.
‘That’s the beauty, you can never stand still or become the perfect player. It’s all about developing until the day you finish.’
Naysayers wrote Stringer off years ago. Cast adrift by Ireland, he slipped down the Munster pecking order, coaches Tony McGahan and Rob Penney believing he was yesterday’s man and only required in an emergency. He didn’t agree and stints under Mark McCall at Saracens and Mike Ford at Newcastle and Bath have proven he was being wasted by the province he starred for since the late 1990s.
‘It was frustrating. I still had plenty to offer and just felt there were other things out there. As good as the place is, as good as the people are, the friends that I had made in Munster – it’s described as one of the best environments you can play rugby in and that is 100 per cent true – but when you are not involved, when you are
When you don’t play it can be the worst place in the world
on the fringes and not getting an opportunity to play, like anywhere it can be the worst place in the world.
‘I could have stayed, could have been part of a great squad, done my training during the week, extra fitness work at the weekend and not get an opportunity to play, but it wasn’t satisfying.
‘I still wanted to be on the pitch, wanted to have an influence. I didn’t want to finish up that way.
‘I wanted to finish on my terms as much as I could. I didn’t want to retire based on the decisions of a cou-
ple of coaches not to pick me. Going away the last few years has certainly opened my eyes to different attitudes towards the game.
When you play for one club for so long you become a bit institutionalised. It’s been a big change but it’s something I’m delighted I’ve done.’
A new lease of rugby life isn’t the only door emigration has opened. Stringer met Bernard Dwyer, a UKbased Irish businessman, at a dinner and that acquaintance has led to a managerial role at Overlay Events, a company providing temporary seating and other short-term stadia facilities.
Not that he’s about to quit though. ‘Given the way I feel right now it’s no different than how I felt probably 10 years ago. You keep hearing people talking about how many years you have left; I try not to buy into that. Speaking to fellas who have retired, guys know when it is their last season and they call it quits then but I’m not at that stage.’ AMLIN CUP FINAL: Bath v Northampton, Arms Park, Cardiff. Friday, 8pm