In his latest exclusive column for Pundit Arena, Max Lahiff talks through a typical Monday morning at Bath Rugby and how much of the mood is based on whether the team has won, drawn or lost at the weekend.
Monday morning, a glorious new beginning or monotonous slog… it’s all perspective I suppose.
As a pro rugby player the only real work that ever really represents your value is a game day. The game is scrutinised to the nth degree win, lose or draw.
When you win, it’s something special; waking up is a pleasure, embracing the grind is easy, a palpable relief and joy can be felt and tasted when you come in on Monday morning. The players are jovial and coaches are more forthcoming with praise and kind words. That horrific week, when it was raining sideways in the cold and you were trying to smear your mates into the turf, was completely worth it. Your outlook on life is changed.
I think it affects players and coaches more than they’d like to admit, in every aspect of their existence. Don’t get me wrong, guys can have well-rounded lifestyles and a variety of interests outside of rugby, but ultimately it’s their career, and their day-to-day, what they know and breath. Rugby is a difficult game to play without any kind of emotional attachment. Losing is brutal.
For many, the effects of losing varies significantly. For some a worthlessness overcomes them; others frustration or depression. After you’ve lost, the club’s aura can be like walking into a mausoleum. Training is harder, motivation can be scant. But, as with all things emotional, it passes.
It is very important to have a short memory in this game, win or lose, as without it you’ll be crippled by the weight of disappointment and failure you would otherwise undoubtedly gather at some point in your career. Likewise, a string of victories can lead to complacency and overconfidence, and with complacency defeat inevitably follows.
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It’s mid-winter in the West Country. Bodies racked with punishment from the weekend’s encounter creak and groan out of slumber, some more than others. I imagine Matt Garvey’s has to be wheeled out to the car, like a huge professor Xavier. I will usually limp out of my abode and into Mike Van Vuuren’s car, where we will usually talk of all things weird and wonderful, but more likely the latter.
Hailing from Port Elizabeth, Mike is interesting in that he talks a mammoth amount of rubbish, so much profound drivel that it seems intelligent. I jest to some extent. Truly though, he’s equipped with an encyclopedic knowledge base of American sports and politics, whilst also preaching the validity of almost every conspiracy theory to have reared its head. It is not uncommon for characters like this to be found in rugby clubs, and they truly make the club culture very entertaining at the best and worst of times, a very admirable trait.
The drive is about 20 minutes (too long) and is without doubt the most picturesque commute in any conditions. Huge rolling hills and healthy valleys framed by handsome stonewalls garnish the countryside. Approaching Farleigh house is very interesting on your first time. As you come up the drive you’re greeted to your left by an amazing field peppered with sheep that stretches down into an emerald green lake and to hills beyond. Whilst to your right a gentle hill greets you as rugby posts begin peering over the top. You then are assaulted by the majesty that is Farleigh house itself. A stately home of some size, limestone crenellations and stain glass windows orientated in a Gothic fashion. It’s a charming sight and you can make out the chapel to the right as you drive towards it. The contents are as good as its venerable exterior. Some of the best facilities in the country I don’t doubt.
Once at the club, we check in to the physiotherapy department. A gang of therapists proceed to poke, prod and measure a gaggle of over nourished limbs and cow like necks to determine the damage wrought. The physios are one of the great pillars of any rugby club. Men and women who orchestrate the many semi-crippled joints and muscles to perform on the day of battle only to be given five days to repair the trauma and have us do it again.
As I’m typing this I’m being molested by Ceri Parnham, a man with hands like Ted Bundy, as he seeks to “release” my neck. Hailing from Wales and of diminutive stature, he is gifted with a whip-like wit that is only matched by the bald smoothness of his cranium. One could not ask for a finer physiotherapist. Sport psychologists after a fashion, they have more power than they know in the reinforcement of a player’s mind. We are particularly lucky I feel here at Bath.
Many a test and questionnaire orientated around our well-being is then submitted. Cameras that measure joint articulation, pots of vitamins and creatine powder ingested to aid in the maintenance and optimum performance of our bodies. Our condition varies enormously from player to player, with some players looking like they have been dropping off finger jewellery in Mordor to the very unscathed, a property I find that is relevant to the work output of the game and that individuals constitution.
Breakfast is then served. An assortment of the standard breakfasting dishes are assembled for hungry mouths to further aid in the welfare of the players and fuel the day ahead. The chefs at Bath are far and away the best I’ve had at any club and, for the most part, no dietary requirement is overlooked and the meals are of a very high quality. Although to the players this meal is generally ridiculed, as it is for the most part the same every day, so the usual crowd banter the chefs. Remarks such as “rat bacon is it?!” “Reheated yesterday’s?!” “Korean breakfast, Dog again then?!” “Didn’t know leather was good for you”. Pretty standard stuff, most of the boys just looking for some reaction from the chefs to lighten up the day so it gets creative.
Some of us do indeed have enormous appetites – you’re looking at between 4,000 to 8,000 calorie a day as a pro rugby player. The range is wide mainly because of the different kind of athletes that play the game; a big fella like Dave Attwood is going to eat more than say George Ford. I find that most of the big eating is done at lunch after training. The advantage of having so many meals at the club is that the conditioners have more power over the players’ nutrition; in turn it stops athletes who are susceptible to ballooning when they touch a cookie or just have a weakness for the tastier things in life. Some guys admittedly are more inclined to turning, to put it bluntly, fat quicker than others. I won’t name names but you can guess. Plus there are guys who literally can’t feed themselves, and spaghetti hoops in a mug with a bag of Doritos to chase it down is hardly going to build a premier athlete. I kid you not, I’ve seen some of the strangest meals ever concocted, by rugby players.
Max Lahiff, Pundit Arena