QBE Behind Enemy Lines Part 3: The Ghost of 6 Nations Future

TTT recently had the pleasure of attending an exclusive Q&A event with some true rugby greats. Five international legends, boasting over 250 caps between, them were on fine form at an event hosted by QBE.

In the final blog of the series, the panel of Martin Bayfield, Scott Quinnell, Serge Betsen, Conor O’Shea and Kenny Logan chatted about the prospect of rugby in their respective nations in the years to come … and blisters in uncomfortable places …

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Martin Bayfield: We’re seeing a lot of young players, English, Welsh, Irish, who are coming through Academy programmes and can step into senior roles and do a job right from the word ‘go’. But there is a problem of losing players over to France.

Scott Quinnell: Yes, I feel sorry for are the 9-12 year olds. When I was their age I’d go down and watch Llanelli to watch great players like Phil Davies and I just wanted to be them. I got asked a question the other day; “If you could go back to any game you ever played, which would it be?” For me it’d be that first game against Penygroes, because to put that Llanelli jersey on and run out on the pitch with those guys was incredible. It was the best feeling I’d had in a rugby jersey. These days they’re going to lose that because Jamie Roberts, Mike Phillips, Dan Lydiate are all playing in France. George North is a 21-year old playing in England and we’re losing that identity where young players as inspired to be the best players they can.

MB: And Kenny, where are the young players coming from in Scottish rugby?

Kenny Logan: Scott’s story was interesting because one of the games that I remember growing up was playing for my local club Stirling County against Boroughmuir. They had eight internationals in the team, we had five. We won the league and it was a great experience. The whole town turned out and that’s not there anymore. People in Glasgow hardly turn up when the Warriors play and Edinburgh don’t get anybody there. The problem is they bring in players from all over the world and the young players don’t get a look in.

The problems are up top as well, when you’ve got the Chief Executive of Scottish Rugby saying that we are still on course to win the Grand Slam and the World Cup next year. These are the statements that are coming from above.

Take London; it’s the second biggest city for Scottish people and we do nothing about it. We don’t run academies down here, we don’t target kids down here. Take the example of Quins with young guys who are really good players getting a chance in the LV Cup. What’s happened in Scotland is there aren’t enough people playing rugby and there aren’t enough opportunities. England will get to the stage where the whole of the Championship is professional and there’s another twelve teams and there’s a great opportunity to bring players through, grow the talent, and the likes of Quins can say, “You’re good enough, have a go at Premiership rugby.” So how long can Scotland keep going like this? Not long. It’s a real concern.

MB: What about Ireland? Brian O’Driscoll is set to retire so are there players coming through, not just the big names we mentioned coming back from injury.

Conor O’Shea: In terms of the players I think they’re already there. Look at Peter O’Mahony stepping in for Sean O’Brien. Ronan O’Gara described him as having ‘psychotic eyes’ and he does. He’s got that intensity to him, like Paul O’Connell – you can see it in his eyes. And that actually filters into the other players. It’s about having that role model.

Interestingly I also remember my first game for Lansdowne, before I joined Leinster; it was against Swansea. I was 17 and the Swansea backline was Robert Jones, Malcolm Dacey, Stuart Parfitt, Bleddyn Bowen, Mark Titley, Arthur Emyr and Tony Clement. I can remember because I was 17, going over it, looking at these guys and shitting it! But the whole of Swansea came down to watch the match. It’s also a social thing, making sure that the clubs remain strong.

Unlike Scotland, we were lucky as we already had the four provinces in place and we went straight into that system the minute the game went professional, so it was ready made. It took a while but it worked. The local league plays its part too. You’ve got young players who might not be able to get into a province team, so they go down there for a year or two and come back up again, or you get a couple of players come over here to the Premiership and they go back again. The odd player like Johnny Sexton will go to France – that’s the nature of the game – but I think Irish rugby is in good health. Will we win everything. Of course not. But will we be extremely competitive and is there a conveyor belt of talent coming through? Yes, and once you have it, it’s very difficult to stop it. The young players are desperate to get in.

MB: Serge, with the sides building the amazing facilities they are, do France have as good a set-up as the other teams?

Serge Betsen: The facilities are definitely there because we built the Marcoussis, the French training centre, possibly the best in Europe. But it’s not going with the quality of the game. There is a lack of professionalism. I don’t think the fitness sessions in the gym are preparing the players to be the best rugby players they can. When I was playing we were doing gym sessions that were just horrendous but now there doesn’t seem to be that level of intensity.

MB: We’ve identified problems in Welsh Rugby and yet the Welsh team has been the strongest side in the 6 Nations. So how do they maintain that consistency?

SQ: Because we’ve got a young group of players who are very, very talented and because of that it’s a catch-22 because they’re being cherry-picked around Europe. But one of the strengths is actually a lack of depth. Look at the absence of Jonathan Davies and Scott Williams has slotted in very nicely. A lot of young guys at tighthead as well, we’ve got Rhodri Jones and Samson Lee and it’s exactly what we talked about earlier – you’ve got to throw them in. Jake Ball has also come through. He’s 120kg, 6ft5 and you stick him in a Welsh jersey and did we miss Alun-Wyn Jones, who’s world-class player? Not really, because Ball’s been able to step into his shoes.

KL: It comes back to having a role model. You want to step into that guys shoes and have to work hard. If the guy ahead is average, you just get in. But if you’ve got great players in front of you, that’s the key to success. For you to get that guy’s position you’ve got to be even better and that’s even better for the team.

SB: Another part of the team which is excellent is the rehab. And I experienced that with Warren Gatland at Wasps. He had the best physio team I’ve had in my career.

SQ: And Warren Gatland used to take you boys to Poland didn’t he? And Wales have now bought a cryotherapy chamber.

KL: When I first turned up at Wasps, he took us to Poland. You’d go in with your woolly socks on, your woolly pants and your headband and if you go to the toilet beforehand you’re told, “make sure you shake!” We went in there once with Ayoola Erinle and he’s a big lad … even in minus 140 degrees! And he’s just told he’s going in just as he’s off to the toilet and he wants to get to lunch because he likes his food. And we’re in there with Craig Dowd and Lawrence Dallaglio. We’re thinking, ‘Christ, it’s cold,’ but he’s saying, “It’s burning, it’s burning!” He came out and he had the biggest blister!

SQ: When we were playing the only reason I can see of using one of those things is if a four-pack of Heineken had gotten warm. 30 seconds in there and it’s happy days!

The rugby legends were speaking exclusively at an event hosted by QBE, official insurance partner of England Rugby. For more great rugby videos and interviews, go to: www.qberugby.com and follow @QBErugby on Twitter.

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