For the past nine years I have been a sports teacher at Bodmin College in Cornwall, and I’d like to think the students there have got a whole lot more out of sport than I ever did during my own school days.
I was bullied at school and didn’t play any sport whatsoever because of that. I only took up rugby at the age of 17 because all my friends were playing on the weekends and I didn’t want to be ‘billy no mates’.
It was whilst I was at Blackwood RFC that Pontypool spotted me, which is where I earned the first five of my nine Welsh caps – as well as the nickname ‘Boris’, as in Boris Karloff, which was given to me by Ray Prosser because of my tall stature and the scar on my cheek from a glassing I’d received in an unprovoked pub attack.
I joined Pontypool in ’83 and it was a halcyon period for the club. We won the Schweppes Cup the year I joined, although unfortunately I was cup-tied, and we went on to secure a hat-trick of Merit Tables titles. All told, I spent nine seasons at Pooler, two of them as captain.
It was kind of cool that my first cap for Wales happened in New Zealand, because I’d spent an enjoyable season there with Bay of Plenty the year before. Getting capped was a source of huge personal pride for me, not due to any undying love of rugby, but because it meant I’d proved people wrong. I got sent off in a Wales youth trial match and the coaches absolutely tore strips off me and told me I’d never make it as a rugby player because I had a bad attitude. That was all the incentive I needed.
Off the field I am a very gentle person but the way rugby was back then it was do or die mentality, and I did get sent off a few times in my career. I think it was a by-product of the way Pontypool played the game. When the ‘greats’ of that side left I felt a bit like the last gun-fighter standing but without any guns. The people coming through to replace them just didn’t have the same reputation and I think I felt it was upon me to try and uphold the club’s tough image.
The 32-week ban I got for ‘stamping’ in the 1990 Five Nations game against France was criminal in every respect. The disciplinary panel were looking to clean the game up and I was made a scapegoat even though I never made contact with the guy. At the hearing I was only allowed yes or no answers. People said at the time that I’d never play for Wales again, but I did, which was fantastic.
The remainder of my caps came during the 1991 World Cup while I was at Newport. I enjoyed every single second of my five seasons at Rodney Parade, mainly because I was recognised for being a good rugby player not just an enforcer. I remember we beat Neath on my debut and, in doing so, ended their long unbeaten run against Welsh opposition.
Looking back, if circumstances had been different I could have won more caps for Wales. I’d been invited to tour Australia in the summer before the World Cup when Ron Waldron was in charge of an exceptionally poor Wales team, but I didn’t take him up on the offer. On other occasions I simply couldn’t get the time off work. Winning my first cap for Wales actually cost me my job in the printing industry because my employers made me choose between the two, I chose rugby. When future conflicts of interest arose I wasn’t in the position to be able to do that again.
After Newport I spent one season at West Hartlepool in the English Premiership before replacing Mark Ring as director of rugby at Penzance & Newlyn, now known as the Cornish Pirates. We enjoyed seven promotions in nine seasons, which was a massive achievement, and I also took great pride in giving some local guys, people like Kevin Penrose and Richard Carroll, a shot at semi-professional rugby.
But would I consider getting back into coaching club rugby again? Never, ever!
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