Our former pro provides a unique insight into the game
Each yEar at around this time, clubs welcome their new signings, and for sides of any decent standing these will include a sprinkling of ‘big names’ – that is, big within the rugby world, which is to say minute everywhere else.
World cup and Grand Slam winners, former captains of southern hemisphere national sides, record point-scorers for their country – that’s the level I’m talking about. Their arrival creates a giggly-as-aschoolgirl buzz among players.
What’s he like? Will we be astounded by his preternatural abilities? Does he wear trunks in the shower? That’s it, I’m going to sit with him at lunch, maybe I can be his new bestie!
It takes no more than a few sessions, or a match or two, for this excitement to die down, and for everyone to realise he’s just a bloke grovelling in the mud like the rest of us. Gasping, straining, generally trying to get through 80 minutes unscathed, whilst doing more good than bad. What a leveller this insane game is.
True quality, of course, will manifest itself over a longer period, through what the player does in the course of a season or multiple seasons. I remember playing alongside one former all Black captain and not being that impressed at first. he couldn’t shoot death rays from his eyeballs and deploy smoke bombs from his ass! But after a couple of games my tiny brain started to realise that he was just doing what good players do: running hard, making his tackles, passing at the right times and keeping mistakes to a minimum. Quite a revelation that you don’t have to make 50m breaks, crack ribs or run in wonder tries to be one of those top, top players.
This particular chap also had an instantly positive effect on what is now called ‘culture’ (back then we just called it wearing the right kit and turning up on time). In all seriousness, though, a truly successful signing will exert his influence way beyond a Saturday, improving the squad’s overall approach
“For signings, the percentage punt is on a solid journeyman”
to training, analysis, match-day preparation etc. But how many big names can you think of who have perceivably done this? Erm… I’m certainly struggling, and I can actually recall many more who have had the exact opposite effect on teams.
They may have already reached an indisputable pinnacle or it may just be the comfort blanket of a hefty three-year contract, but I have seen many of these guys, having escaped the scrutiny of their own countrymen, incrementally and subconsciously (one hopes) take their foot off the pedal. By the time their contract is up and they are politely ushered out the door – probably in the direction of Japan – it’s a real struggle to remember what all the fuss was about. having seen this happen again and again, I’m constantly amazed by the likes of LeBron James, ronaldo and Federer. after all they’ve done and earned, how can they still be bothered?
So, for new signings, the percentage punt is on a solid journeyman, a guy who is maybe just about at or below international class and for whom a successful club career will realistically be as good as it gets (note to any potential employers: I am currently unattached).
Worst case, the club hire a guy who gets on quietly with his job, constantly looking to improve and add value to the team. Maybe motivation is not titles, more to improve his standing and end up with a better contract, but hey, he’s still a good guy to have.
The best-case scenario is, for whatever reason, a club and a player click. Stars align, lightning is bottled, and somehow some bloke the fans had barely heard of becomes a local hero. I’m thinking of the likes of Dean Mumm, Bruce reihana or chris Wyles.
Of course, clubs with more money than sense will never learn, and come November 2019 we’ll see the usual influx of stars, making noises about admiring the brutality of northern hemisphere rugby and not being here for a holiday. Prepare to be mildly underwhelmed.
Reliable return Nizaam Carr has rejoined Wasps