Andrew swaps codes to find Sussex success
Richard Edwards speaks to Sussex’s new Chief Executive, Rob Andrew, about life after rugby...
Adesk in the warren of offices at the back of one of county cricket’s most picturesque and historic grounds seems an incongruous setting to meet an icon of English rugby and a man who, not too long ago, was piloting the professional game in this country for the RFU. In many ways, however, Rob Andrew’s appointment as Sussex’s chief executive – a job he started earlier this month – has seen his career come full circle.
It was easy to forget when Andrew was winning three Grand Slams as a fly-half with England or trying to tackle the great Jonah Lomu in the World Cup that he once captained Cambridge University in the Varsity match at Lords, and played Second XI cricket for his native Yorkshire alongside the likes of David Byas, Richard Blakey and Ashley Metcalf.
Looking relaxed in his new environment, Andrew jokes that his one shot, ‘the forward defensive’, was unlikely to get him very far in the game. But for a man who made his England rugby debut while still at University, it’s little wonder that cricket ended up playing second fiddle in the long run.
Fast forward 30 years and cricket is now very much back at the top of his priority list as he prepares to lead Sussex through what could, potentially, be a period that decides the direction of the English game for the next 20 years.
“If you asked my mates at school when I was playing right through until I left school, they would probably say I excelled more in cricket than rugby,” says Andrew. “Did I love cricket more than I loved rugby? It’s different. I still play a bit of cricket; I still try and play a couple of times a year.
“My batting was boring. I had one shot, the forward defensive, it was the only one I ever got taught. I would have nets every day at the school in summer and I loved it. I just loved batting. The school (Barnard Castle School in Durham) also had another claim to fame as Graham, Ben Duckett’s dad was there too. He was the star cricketer when I first arrived.”
The left-handed Andrew ended his Cambridge University career with an average of 21, but did manage to notch a First-Class century – a gritty 101 not out against Nottinghamshire in 1984. He will get a chance to renew that particular rivalry this summer following Nottinghamshire’s relegation from Division One last season, but aside from overseeing a county capable of building a genuine title charge, there were plenty of other challenges greeting him as he arrived at Hove from his home in Kingston for the first time three weeks ago. The biggest of which is ensuring Sussex members still have a county to watch and a ground to go to in the future.
“If you’ve grown up with cricket and have a love of cricket, which most members have, then one of the problems cricket is facing is that there is a dwindling number of people in society,” he says.
“As passionate as those people are, and we are passionate no doubt about that, if that number dwindles over time then there’s only one outcome eventually. In 20 or 30 years’ time we might not be here and, actually, if that supply chain of members stops, not just members but also players in the recreational game, and you take it to its final conclusion, then you have no sport left in 50 years’ time.
“That’s maybe a bit dramatic, but if you don’t recognise the signs and you don’t address some of the issues all sports face, you run the risk of the unthinkable.”
Andrew’s rugby background means he brings with him a fresh pair of eyes to the apparently interminable debate over the future format of the sport.
The former RFU’s Professional Rugby Director has witnessed at first hand the battles and squabbles that Rugby Union has had to cope with since the professionalisation of the sport 20 years ago, and Andrew himself believes that the County Championship could benefit from a more democratic approach.
“In rugby, we’ve had this debate for 20 years and we still haven’t solved it,” he says. “It goes in the ‘too difficult’ pile every time we raise it.
“I’ll probably get shot down in flames because I’ve only been here two minutes, but I would probably rather have a two conference world, like we see in American sport.
“Then you could create an exciting end to the season with a County Championship semi-final and final, so you could recreate what we saw with Yorkshire and Middlesex last summer.
“That really put the Championship back on the map and showed what was possible.”
Andrew witnessed a complete transformation of rugby during his time as a player, coach and administrator. He could be about to see a similar revolution.
“My batting was boring. I had one shot, which was the forward defensive, it was the only shot I was taught ”
On your toes: Rob Andrew poses for a portrait at Cambridge University. Andrew was a dual blue representing Cambridge University at both cricket and rugby union between 1982 and 1984
Too big and too strong: The great Jonah Lomu breezes past Rob Andrew at the 1995 World Cup