THE SE­CRET PLAYER

Rugby World - - BOOTCAMP -

With­out Wish­ing to come over all ‘Four York­shire­men’ about it, I’m from a res­o­lutely work­ing-class back­ground (“Gumshields? Loox­ury!” etc). My fa­ther did a ridicu­lously hard and dan­ger­ous out­door job for 40 years, and as he was self-em­ployed the thought of unions or pen­sions never ever crossed his mind.

So when I en­tered ‘the work­place’ as a young pro, the con­cept of hav­ing rights as an em­ployee, and that those who paid me have obli­ga­tions to take care of me, were en­tirely for­eign. Per­haps I’m too eager to please, but I was will­ing to do what­ever I was told and what­ever my coaches and team-mates needed. In­juries, con­cus­sions and ex­haus­tion were just mi­nor im­ped­i­ments to get­ting the job done.

Most guys spend the ma­jor­ity of their ca­reer with­out giv­ing a sec­ond thought to whether there might be a dif­fer­ent, fairer way of do­ing things. To be­gin with, you are as­tounded that some­one is will­ing to pay you for these shenani­gans; rocking the boat couldn’t be fur­ther from your mind.

Then, very quickly, you move into sur­vival mode. With con­tracts gen­er­ally two years long, you are only ever a cou­ple of months’ bad form or a de­cent in­jury away from find­ing your­self on the dung heap. ‘Find a con­tract, keep a con­tract’ is our sub­con­scious mantra.

Gen­er­ally, then, it is only in the au­tumn of a ca­reer that play­ers de­velop the con­fi­dence, in­cli­na­tion and gump­tion to speak up on be­half of the com­mon foot sol­dier. It took me a long time to cot­ton on that as you ap­proached the age of 30 and be­yond, when the pres­sure of child-rear­ing and find­ing a job af­ter sport be­gin to weigh heav­ily, that this stuff was ac­tu­ally se­ri­ous.

In my early twen­ties, I re­mem­ber our na­tional union’s CEO com­ing to tell the squad that our pal­try match fees were be­ing held at their cur­rent level for two years. I said it all seemed fair enough as we had been aw­ful that sea­son any­way. Plus, to some­one whose pre­vi­ous job had been a pa­per round, the peanuts we were be­ing paid was still a for­tune.

The older guys, of course, were ready to fight like dogs for ex­tra cash, and their dis­gust and in­credulity at my stu­pid­ity was pal­pa­ble. I was ef­fec­tively shunned by the lit­tle ca­bal of se­nior play­ers. But on the pos­i­tive side, it started to dawn on me that we were not just pieces of meat and, if you are good enough and smart enough, play­ers can have power to in­flu­ence their own des­tinies.

There is an irony in this, how­ever, as the guys who have the most clout – ie, those at the very top – may be the ones who gain most from the sys­tem as it ex­ists. In Ire­land, top in­ter­na­tion­als are very well looked af­ter by their union and pretty well paid, so seem to have lit­tle to com­plain about. The sit­u­a­tions in Scot­land and Wales are largely sim­i­lar.

The guys who do have a gen­uine case for be­ing over­worked are the English. Just see­ing a photo of Chris Rob­shaw makes me feel tired. Even if he’s in a tuxedo. But when was the last time you heard a leaked in­sider com­plaint about one of Ed­die Jones’s no­to­ri­ously bru­tal camps? It’s amaz­ing the bat­ter­ing a body will ac­cept when £22,000 a game is the ul­ti­mate re­ward.

And if you’re a home in­ter­na­tional play­ing in France? Zero com­plaints from them; zero sym­pa­thy from the home union. We all know there are roughly 500,000 rea­sons to join the grind of the Top 14, and “want­ing a new ex­pe­ri­ence” isn’t ac­tu­ally one of them. So who does that leave to cham­pion the cause of the over­worked, mis­used jour­ney­man? Old duf­fers; guys who used to play a bit and now pe­ri­od­i­cally re­count how they can barely swing them­selves out of bed in the morn­ing.

A bit of lip ser­vice will be paid by clubs to rest­ing play­ers, pro­long­ing ca­reers and en­sur­ing guys aren’t left phys­i­cal and men­tal wrecks by rugby.

But the un­avoid­able truth is it’s a ridicu­lously hard and dan­ger­ous out­door job. Yet un­like the one my dad did, a pretty well-paid one.

Packed sched­uleEd­die Jones at an Eng­land camp in Au­gust

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