A new journal capturing the spirit of the greatest game

Inside the first-ever issue of Rugby...

James Haskell

the players

We talk to Wasps, England and British & Irish Lions flanker James Haskell (and Chloe), legendary Bath and England hooker Graham Dawe, Georgia captain Merab Sharikadze, player-turned-jewellery-maker Chris Hallam, former Dragons No8 Ed Jackson and England stars Charlie Hodgson, Rob Andrew and Simon Halliday.

London Welsh

the teams

Meet the English club based in a garden shed but with the country's most capped coaching team. Discover what happened after London Welsh lost after four games at level nine. Find out how Swaziland's rugby president is taking the fight to HIV. Join us on a tour of grassroots rugby in the north of England and why small-town rugby in the Czech Republic is the way to go.

Scrum machines

insight

We talk to the man who has been hand-building your scrum machines for a decade. The British & Irish Lions nutritionist tells us what it takes to fuel a professional player and how one managed to pile on four kilos of muscle – while recovering from a shoulder injury. We also meet the man who once designed thermal nuclear rockets for NASA and is now using tech to unpick the dark side of the scrum.

 

A little bit of Rugby... the player extracts

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James Haskell

James Haskell isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. He doesn’t deny it. His girlfriend Chloe doesn’t deny it either. In fact, she admits, she wanted to ‘punch him in the face’

Haskell is a name that conjures up all kinds of thoughts. There isn’t a rugby fan without an opinion from one end of the spectrum to the other. They either love or loathe. Some first loathed because he had the audacity to leave Wasps for Paris as a 24-year-old, putting his England career in peril (what career couldn’t survive a three-hour Eurostar trip?). Others loathed when he realised earlier than most that he needed to have a career outside of rugby and dared to try and get brands on board... 

Graham Dawe

graham dawe

“I do struggle with cocky 19-year-olds. You want to say to them: ‘you got something special in your heels that makes you bounce around like that?’ Just calm down. Kyran Bracken was cocky, he thought he was fun. I didn’t take kindly to that.”

Graham Dawe. If there’s one man you don’t play a trick on, it’s Graham Dawe. The former Bath and England hooker: the hardman’s hardman.  

The Bracken story is one of many about him. It goes that they roomed for England and the Saracens’ scrum-half thought it would be a laugh to lock Dawe out of their hotel room wearing just his towel. Funny. He didn’t think it through. Eventually, of course, the frontrower got back in and taught the No.9 a lesson or two...

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Merab Sharikadze

“I think there are more people interested in watching rugby in Georgia than in Super rugby. I’m telling you, put those games on in Georgia and the stadiums will be full not half-empty. Give us a place so we can play.”

Wales knew they were going to lose. A scrum five metres out, 81:52 on the clock, the Georgia forwards smelling blood and going in for the kill. Drive over, touch down close enough to the posts, convert kick and a 13-6 deficit becomes a 13-13 draw. 

Attempting to repel a Georgian scrum from close-range is something few sides, even ones containing British & Irish Lions, can do...

“Rugby players do a lot of it, you know, chat and go for coffees. Sadly, I had to point out to the youngsters that drinking coffee isn’t a career outside of rugby.” James Haskell

A little bit of Rugby... the team extracts

Chesham RFC

To prove it’s a proper rugby club, an RFU shield hangs on the door of the repurposed garden shed. It’s not the most obvious place to find the country’s most capped coaching team, but then a lot of great things are built in sheds.

And we are talking about a garden shed here. A proper one, right down to its wood-panelled walls, and limited dimensions designed to house old lawnmowers, rusty garden tools, bin bags of clothing and artefacts of hobbies long since abandoned. 

The town the shed calls home is Chesham, which is pleasant enough. Surrounded by farmland, it resides in Buckinghamshire’s Chess Valley and has enough good pubs to entice walkers from the nearby Chiltern Hills...

London Welsh

London Welsh

Just four games into the London Welsh revival, they lose 17-7 to UCS Old Boys on a ‘small, slanting, pitch’. It’s not in the script. Coach Cai Griffiths is philosophical about defeat: “I wanted to rip people’s faces off.” The journey back is going to be a long one.

The clubhouse of Saracens Amateurs on Bramley Road in Southgate retains every ounce of the misty-eyed nostalgia that any dyed-in-the-wool rugby fan could want. There are walls lined with shields from every club you could name, and many more you can’t. There are faded photographs of bygone teams, sides littered with internationals. And there are trophies, signed shirts and all the usual trinkets you’d expect in a clubhouse that was once the home of Europe’s premier rugby club...

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Swaziland

The impact propelled Michael Collinson forward in his car seat. The giant bull landed on the roof, forcing it down on top of his neck, severing his spinal chord. A ‘perfect’ shot. Instantly, it made him a paraplegic. He died three times that night.

"I couldn’t even get dying right,” laughs Michael Collinson, as he recounts the tale from his Swaziland farm. “We’d been driving back from a friend’s house on Boxing Day, it was dark and raining. Really raining – because although it’s summer, you get fierce rain – like you couldn’t believe.

“We drove around a corner and in the middle of the road there was this huge, black bull...

There are 345,000 people living with HIV in Swaziland – that’s 28.8% of the population – the highest in the world. “We now have a song,” says Michael. “Pass the ball, not the virus.”

A little bit of Rugby... the insight extracts

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sport technology

Four years ago, Pete Husemeyer was designing a nuclear thermal rocket engine to propel a NASA ship to Mars in 2055. Today, he’s trying to unravel the mysteries of the scrum.

When you work for NASA there’s apparently quite a bit of downtime. Which isn’t great when you’re based in the most middling of middle America towns and there’s not much to do – except for watch sport on television. Which is what South African Pete Husemeyer did. 

Based in Idaho, the Cambridge graduate’s role included heading up the design team for an engine that would send a ship to Mars. Evenings would often lead to watching sport, with ice hockey often the discipline of choice... 

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nutrition

“When players are injured they normally lose a lot of muscle, not Taufa’ao Filise. He had a shoulder op, went home to recover and came back with an extra four kilos of muscle. ‘What have you been doing?, I asked. ‘Fishing,’ he said. Some players defy everything we know.”

“Scientifically, I don’t know what the answer is,” admits Jon Williams, as he ponders the unique physiology of a Pacific Island rugby player. “I think it’s got something to do with cortisone levels, because they’re so chilled out and never stressed and yet they have high levels of testosterone. When they go into the gym they switch on and they train well, then straight after they’re chilled out again. It’s the only thing I can put it down to. Whatever the answer, they’re definitely blessed."...

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scrum machine

Welded to a tractor, bolted against a brick wall, screwed to the bumper of a Land Rover; it’s lucky for props the world over that someone decided to invent proper scrum machines.

Rewind the clock no further than the 1980s and head to any rugby ground. Odds are you’d have seen some kind of contraption designed to test the forwards scrum proficiency, but arguably looking more like something from a Mad Max dystopian universe. 

Often designed by the local handyman, it could be made of anything from random bits of scaffolding to assorted wood to scrap car parts...

Some scrum machines were works of art that, even if it may have caused dislocation on every hit, would also have won the Turner Prize if the creator moved in the right circles.