I had a quick look at the Northampton Saints website last week and noticed John Raphael is a Board Director and 'Dusty' Hare the Academy recruitment and development manager. John played over 150 games for Northampton and in addition has the distinction of sitting 'on the bench' for England on nearly 30 occasions between 1975 - 81 without ever getting capped. Dusty will be remembered by those of a certain vintage as the full back and prodigious kicker for Leicester, England and the Lions.
Whilst we all played against each other on many occasions, we had tremendous fun when representing 'England Classicals' at the end of our playing days. To qualify you needed to be an International player and over 33 years of age - at least John fulfilled one of the criteria.
My tale this week is about a 10 a-side tournament in Stockholm which the 'Classicals' entered back in the 90's. It was a regular age tournament but our management decided we'd have enough experience to hold our own against the younger players.
As a physically fit, finely tuned group of individuals the first thing we realised on arrival in Sweden was how expensive the beer was (about £5 a pint in the mid 1990's). Fortunately for the five Bath players on the trip and a couple of invited guests, we found out Jack Rowell (Bath Coach) was on a business trip to Stockholm and was staying in a centrally located (posh) hotel. We arrived at the hotel on our first night to be informed Jack was not in his room; so we decided to have a beer in the bar while we waited for his return. I'm sure we fully intended to pay for the round, but when the waiter asked who was signing for the drinks, John Horton (Bath fly half) stretched himself to his full 5'6" and signed on behalf of the 6'6" Jack Rowell, something he continued to do all evening! After each round we took it in turns to ring Jack's room. Late in the evening it was my turn and Jack answered, "I heard you were in town." We were not only in town we were ripping into the beer at his expense. I asked if he was coming to the bar for a drink with the boys and he explained how busy he'd been and would catch up with us the following day. He then said, "Have a drink on me" (honest), and following a short pause he said, "You already have, haven't you?"
"See you tomorrow Jack" was my response.
We miraculously reached the semi-final of the tournament, before coming up against a team from Ireland containing five current International players including Wales' favourite referee Alain Rolland (for all those Welsh people who assume he never played the game, he was a scrum half for Ireland, Leinster and Blackrock).
We were in danger of conceding a cricket score and drastic measures were needed. At short notice our best plan was to get more players onto the pitch, so every time the ball was in open play we'd quietly 'slip on' a couple of extra players, who would drift away whenever a scrum or lineout took place. Even with 12, 13, 14 players we were merely slowing down the rate at which the Irish lads scored. The crowd of 2000 – 3000 could clearly see what was happening and thoroughly enjoyed our illegal efforts to stem the tide, whilst the referee remained apparently oblivious. At one point the linesman, Bath's former International referee Tony Spreadbury, asked me how many players we had on the pitch?
"Fifteen," I replied "and it would be sixteen except Dusty is asleep on the high jump mat." We both gazed over to the huge cushioned high jump landing area close to one end of the pitch and saw Dusty curled up, oblivious to the fact fifteen of his team-mates were getting stuffed by ten young Irishmen.
We suffered a heavy defeat but managed to 'get over it' within a few minutes of the final whistle. Which to be fair was a somewhat shorter period of time than it took Jack to get over his massive bar bill from a brief business trip to Stockholm. Training at Bath was a bit 'tasty' for several weeks following that particular trip!