I established in a previous article the Heineken Cup was not in existence when I was young and vaguely fit, so I have no playing experience of the tournament. However, I do have a lot of touring experience and all away fixtures in the current competition are like a mini tour (in my book). I think many players from my era would describe me as an avid tourist. I was lucky enough to have a couple of tours with England, several with Bath and numerous with invitational teams like the Barbarians, Irish Wolfhounds, Public School Wanderers etc.
There's no such thing as a bad tour. Some are perhaps better than others but I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of visiting new places, seeing new sights, meeting new people and drinking on foreign soil. It's fair to say the levels of commitment varied depending on the touring team. If it was England, we trained every day for at least a couple of hours, if it was an invitation side – we didn't. Bath tours lay somewhere in-between.
When the game became professional in 1995 many people will remember Bath being possibly the first team to sign players from Rugby League, Henry Paul and Jason Robinson. At the time I frequently parked my car at the Recreation Ground (ahh the good old days) and remember walking towards it one afternoon when a press conference announcing the arrival of the aforementioned was breaking up. The two players went onto the pitch for some photographs whilst the journalists made their way to their cars. I found myself walking alongside David Frost, rugby correspondent for the Guardian newspaper.
After exchanging a few pleasantries he said, "There's something I've always wanted to ask you. In 1981 during the England tour of Argentina you scored 'that try' which in my opinion saved the tour; had England lost the match (a midweek game against that well known team the Littoral Region XV in Rosario) it would have had a major impact on the tour in particular and English Rugby in general. What I want to know is what did Bill Beaumont (captain) say to you after the match?"
My initial response was to say no one had ever asked me that question during the intervening fourteen years, but I did remember what Bill said, not least because I was the youngest member of the touring party and for that match had changed next to the great man, it sounds silly but you don't forget little moments like that.
For the record we were 21-19 down with about a minute left on the clock. I received a pass behind our own try line on the left side of the pitch and scored a try in the right corner (it's amazing what the combination of pace and fear can do for a man). The English full back 'Dusty' Hare converted the try and the match was won 25 – 21 (only 4 points for a try in those days).
I described to 'Frosty' how we'd gone into the changing rooms, thrown our shirts into the middle and sat there realising how close we'd come to defeat; before the usual comments of 'never in doubt' and 'all in a day's work' were bandied about. I knew Bill was going to say something as he parked his exceptionally large backside next to me. I also knew it was going to be short, something like, 'well done Tricky' or 'thanks.'
He made eye contact, held out his left hand and a second or two later said "Tricky ... for god's sake give me a cigarette!"
Post-match today is all about warm downs, rehydration, medical assessments, ice baths etc. Thirty odd years ago it was nothing more than a Benson & Hedges cigarette and a shower. It's probably fair to say things have moved on considerably since the good old amateur days.