I know what you're thinking - here's more column inches dedicated to the scrum. Well, I have a surprise for you. If you're looking for my insight into the new scrum engagement, you are in the wrong place. Sorry! Check back in mid October, after the new scrum has had a chance to settle. I may have something to say then.
I thought I would take a trip down memory lane for this blog. Perhaps I have run out of things to talk about, or maybe I'm feeling nostalgic after playing for the Leicester Development team on a Monday night. Either way, I have found myself recently reflecting on a pretty long career, and have been quite astonished at how the game has changed. For instance, the way young players are introduced to the game now has changed immeasurably. We now have really good school rugby programs, academies, the EPDG, well organised clubs, scouts all over the world. Identifying and developing talent has become a huge part of rugby.
I joined Saracens in the summer of 1996. My path to them was fairly standard at the time. I played county rugby for Surrey through all the age-groups from Under 15, and also represented London & South-East Division in the Divisional Championship at various age-groups. At the time, I was playing for my local club side's senior first team who were in the London division immediately below National League 5. In the 1995/96 season, my coach for London & SE Division was Mark Evans. At the time he was head coach at Saracens, and he literally came up to me after a London training session and said I should come to Saracens pre-season training that summer at their old home of the Bramley Road ground in North London. Just have a runabout. See if you like it. And that was it! No academy, no scouts, just an invitation to come for a bit of training at a team that were, at the time, about to be one of the early driving forces in the new professional game of rugby union.
(It's worth noting here that, although rugby union officially went professional in the 1995/96 season, no clubs really made any 'signings' until the next season. Instead, they rewarded the current squad with contracts and effectively made them professional players, even though almost all of them continued to hold down 'normal' jobs).
So, there I was, a 19-year-old kid from South London, getting on the tube, taking the Piccadilly Line from Kings Cross all the way to the end, getting off at Cockfosters, and walking the 2 miles to the Saracens ground. When I got there, I was crapping myself! I didn't know anyone apart from the coach, I didn't know anything at all about this small rugby club, and I was in the alien territory of North London. Not the ideal place for a lad from South of the river. Anyway, I strolled (casually I thought) into the dingy old clubhouse and followed the signs for the dressing room.
As I approached the doors, 2 things struck me - the babble of different accents, and the smell of coconut. I walked into the room and the first thing I saw was a naked, bronzed man who happened to have the loudest voice in the room. He was also the source of the coconut smell. This was my first meeting with Gregg Botterman, the Saracens hooker who had recently sat on the bench for England in the Five Nations match against Scotland at Twickenham. It transpired that he was famous not only for his relentless banter, but also for slathering himself in coconut butter moisturising cream in pursuit of eternal youth. In all fairness, it seemed to work as he looked incredibly young for his advanced age, and still does, I might add!
Anyway, there was an empty seat next to Botts, so I dumped my bag down and started to get changed. I glimpsed a few other players out of the corner of my eye, and thought I recognised a few, but I was so concerned with getting my boots on the right feet that I didn't really pay them much attention.
Back then, you brought your own kit to train in and there was none provided for you at all. It just so happened that I had chosen and old Australian replica jersey to wear that night. I think my mum had bought it for me from Debenhams. So there I was, ready to go out and train with this pro team, in my Debenhams replica Aussie shirt, and this guy comes over and shakes my hand....
Find out who was shaking George's hand in part II of his blog.
Tonight the clash between Harlequins and Northampton Saints is being offered FREE on BT TV, Sky, Virgin and Freeview from 19:00-22:00 (BST).
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