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The greatest stories, beautifully told.
Extracts from the fourth issue of RUGBY...
When eventually Danny Cipriani stopped. When his life stopped going from game to game, team to team, trophy to trophy. When he was on his own, on the other side of the world, for the first time ever, danny cipriani was hit by depression. Questions that he’d never thought about before, or had time to ask, emerged to darken his days. Even for the gifted, life isn’t always easy.
Danny Cipriani hasn’t done many fashion shoots of late. “I’d like to,” he admits, “but I’d just get too much grief.” As he poses in the courtyard with his shirt off, an office worker strolls into the frame with a freshly lit cigarette. He takes one look at the Danny’s ripped torso, glances down at his own less-than-ripped paunch, stubs out the cigarette and sheepishly does an about-turn.
Our photographer is a newcomer to rugby and is also taken by how good looking his subject is, “there’s actually something about Brad Pitt in him,” he says to his assistant, adding, “I think it’s the lips.” “Do you ever get that?” he asks Danny. “Erm, not really,” responds the Gloucester fly-half, clearly a bit embarrassed by the compliment.
At 3pm, 10-year-old Kyle left school, strictly following his mum’s set route home, always avoiding the people and places she knew weren’t safe. It took ten minutes. If it took eleven, she was in the car. There was always one place she’d look first, the fish and chip shop.
To some, Kyle Sinckler will always be the angry kid from the other side of the tracks who turned up for rugby in a Man United top. Having this crop up time and again is annoying for any number of reasons, especially if you’re Kyle. “I remember one of the first interviews I did was with the Daily Mail,” he recalls. “And I was quite fresh at the time, I wasn’t media trained and the guy was asking me all these questions but just kept coming back to the same thing, ‘so where are you from, talk to me, what was it like? What was the estate like? Blah blah blah blah’. I was just kind of freaked out by it all, and I think the headline ended up being something like, ‘Mum saved Sinckler from gang life’. I was just, ‘for God’s sake, it’s not like that’. Okay I’m black, I’m from a rough area in south London, and I play rugby. It used to bother me when I was younger, because everyone had this idea that I was this angry black dude from London who could’ve been in a gang, but I’ve just got to be comfortable in myself and knowing who I am and that people around me know who I am too.”
At 16, after his dad died, Steve Diamond stepped into his shoes as he was handed his job at the local printers. He was a cog in the wheel of a 2,000-strong workforce, pumping out millions of newspapers a day. Thanks to the union, it was paid well, too, £300 a week by the age of 18. A job for life.
Don’t believe everything you read about Steve Diamond. Like the fact he was born in Chatham, Kent, which you would have read had you looked at his Wikipedia page a few weeks ago, and pops up elsewhere as a result. “Yeah, it’s weird that, but no, I was born two miles from here, but I never bothered to change it,” he says, “because it doesn’t matter where I was born.”
We’re in his office overlooking the training pitches at Carrington Road, a corner of Manchester known for training grounds of the professional sports club. Bury FC are up the road, Manchester City are almost next door, Manchester United the other side of them.
When he first thought about retiring from rugby, England’s record try scorer yearned for something with a little more action. He wanted a different life. One where he would be able to fly multi-million-pound supersonic jets at speeds of 1,500mph, 65,000ft high, and to fire missiles with precision from a range of 250km. Only if you’re Rory Underwood do you think about retiring because you want to go faster.
When it comes to interviews, Rory Underwood is all too used to comparisons between players from his era and their modern-day counterparts. As part of the first generation of English rugby players to collectively make it into the mainstream, thanks to their exploits both on and off the pitch, Rory and his old teammates are also considered the last of the true amateurs – even if some of them did manage to get a few pay cheques in before hanging up their boots. “It’s always, what do you think of England now?” he says, when we meet in the private members club of M in Victoria. “Are they better, fitter, stronger? Are the players too big? People always ask us the question, has it gone too far?”
He almost laughs, because he’s been there himself, people thought his generation had ‘gone too far’. “It’s weird,” he says. “I remember vividly in the early 90s, when we were going through our successful phase, one alickadoo coming up to me after a dinner and saying he felt like we were getting ‘too professional’.
Just when Grant Fox had made the decision to end his career in rugby, a phone call in late 2011 from new All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen changed everything.
When the playing career of Grant Fox – the fly-half at the heart of the first Rugby World Cup-winning All Blacks team of 1987, and through one of the side’s most successful eras in the late-1980s and beyond – drew to a close, he had followed the path into coaching with Auckland. Often called upon to give his thoughts on television, particularly when All Blacks were involved, it was while fulfilling this role that he’d made the decision to step away from the game. Watching over the second Rugby World Cup win in 2011 seemed like the right time to make the choice to sever his working ties with the game. But no sooner had he made the decision – momentous given his whole life had been defined by what happened when he crossed the white line, he had a call from Steve Hansen, asking him to become a selector.
“I thought I was going to become a fan, sitting at home on the couch and going to the odd game,” explains Grant, talking to us from his Auckland home. “I had a couple of stints commentating and by the end of 2011, I was done with that as well. The deeper time commitment in the game was now at an end. My first thought when Steve rang was, ‘What a great honour that he’s thought of me for this particular role he had in mind’.”
Depending on which side of the Channel you take your rugby history lessons, women’s rugby was either first played in France in 1903 or in England in 1913. And no doubt somewhere in the annals of history, Scotland and Wales have a claim somewhere too. But when it really started to get going in the UK was more than eight decades later, sparked by a chance meeting between two students in a Lancashire hop field.
It was the universities that first gave women’s rugby a foothold. In England, it started to gain traction in the 1960s, a trend that was spreading across Europe, to France, Netherlands and Spain, and across the Atlantic in Canada and United States. Needless to say, Australia and New Zealand were never find behind.
But the foundations of the first official union, the WRFU, that arrived with all the relevant paperwork in the 1980s, might have taken longer to come about had it not been for two students hop-picking between terms.
Leeds University undergraduate Carol Isherwood was always a big sports fan, and had always been the girl that wanted to play the boys’ games at school, but the concept of actually being allowed to play rugby had never even crossed her mind. Until she met Christine Kendrick, a fellow student, only from Sheffield University who was also earning a few pounds picking hops to help fund the student life. Like Carol, Christine loved sport, and, in particular, rugby but not only as a fan, she was playing the game. Christine, who would later set up the Sale women’s side, proved an inspiration.
When Ian finally stepped onto the training field, Owen, only a few yards ahead, turned back to jokingly give him stick for being late. Before the words left his mouth, he saw his friend on one knee; then, a second later, collapsed onto the turf. He rushed to his side, but little did Owen know there was nothing he could do. Ian was gone.
On Tuesday 20th February 2018, about 9.30am, fellow Doncaster Knights props Ian Williams and Owen Evans were last out of the changing rooms. It was a forwards training session that morning, and they were heading for the back paddock, just beyond the main pitch. Ian had only made it a few metres onto the training field when Owen turned around. “Both me and him were last, and I’d turned back to jokingly say ‘fucking hurry up, Ian’ or something, because I was late as well. But as I looked at him to say something, he was on one knee, staring at nothing – something wasn’t right. He then dropped on one hand and face-planted on the floor. I thought, ‘shit, he’s passed out’ and ran straight to him.”
There within seconds, he put Ian into the recovery position. At first, says Owen, the sight of the two props entangled on the floor as he moved his team-mate could have been mistaken for them wrestling, as props are wont to do, but it would only have been for a split second.
In 1492, Henry VII held a month-long tournament with minstrels, stilt-walkers, jesters and rope dancers, with revelry spilling from palace to Richmond Green – all to the sound of splintered lances and men crashing to the floor as jousting took centre stage. Less than 400 years later, a football club named after the town started playing ‘rugby’ on the very same ground. It was then that things got interesting.
Edwin H. Ash wasn’t a king, but, in 1861, he did start an army. He worked in the local military college and, when he came to the town for work, he brought with him a routine of playing ‘football on public streets on Shrove Tuesday’, and so he started up his own team, Richmond FC, naming it after his adopted home.
In Richmond Green he found the perfect pitch and, ignoring the rules barring anything but bowls and cricket to be played, put up some posts to get the ball rolling. The rules played were pretty loose and a jumble from assorted schools, but the growing presence of Old Rugbeians in the side did have an influence.
They officially became a club with all the t’s crossed and i’s dotted in the season 1863-64, and soon caused a stir attracting crowds of 400-500 people from the start. People were shocked by what they saw, especially in the rain, with one commentating (according to the author EJ Ereaut, who wrote Richmond Football Club 1861-1925), that players’ ‘white flannels from time to time took the most grotesque appearance’.
The chip van man at the Gnoll is trying to make things work. He’s going to give it another season and see what happens. The £14 electricity bill isn’t helping, margins are tight, but he’ll persevere, for now. Besides, it’s Neath v Pontypool today, so there should be a good crowd.
Sinkholes have been known to appear in Neath. There was one only last year, with the local paper reporting that residents were ‘shocked’ as a large part of the road disappeared. As you would be.
It wasn’t the first sinkhole the town in south Wales has experienced either, there was one only the year before and – given the presence of apparently 20-odd mine shafts down below – it might not be the last either.
But it wasn’t always left to long-forgotten old mines to make the earth move for the people of Neath, that was the job of the rugby club. With the stands full, the roars of the crowd, coupled with the traipsing of thousands of fans through the streets, rugby had always sent tremors through the town. Especially when giants of rugby were sent crashing to the ground at the Gnoll by the local heroes.
All Blacks, Springboks and Wallabies have all had their noses bloodied here, while countless knockout blows have been handed out to the biggest clubs in both Wales and England.
After Yugoslav and Serbian military and paramilitary forces swept through Kosovo, destroying more than 500 villages, the sky was filled with NATO air strikes, and millions of Kosovar Albanians were displaced. Among them was five-year-old Jerinë and her family.
Pristina isn’t the prettiest of cities, but then it’s had a tough life. Home to one million of Kosovo’s 1.7million people, its mish-mash of architectural styles is symbolic of having to build a lot of homes for a lot of people, very quickly. Around 90 per cent of Kosovan homes were destroyed by the war, and with many leaving the countryside for the city, Pristina become a new home for many. It’s still the case today, with cranes and scaffolding a permanent fixture of the cityscape.
If you’d been here 15 years ago, you’d have seen first-hand the destruction wrought by war, with roads and buildings scarred by the bombings.
In a country barely a decade old, Kosovo has been rebuilding on all fronts, homes, lives and community. Which is where rugby comes in. The sport has been a slow burner in Europe’s youngest country, with the first team being set up by expats straight after the war in 2000, and only four teams emerging since. One is even more pioneering than the rest, Lynx Rugby Football Club, the country’s first and only women’s rugby club.
With icicles hanging from his balaclava, hands still shivering from the Arctic-like cold of his 4am cycle to work, Jim Crick began unloading boxes from the truck with his foreman yelling ‘schneller’ (faster) at every momentary pause. Later that day, after three more shifts at different jobs, he’ll get to do the one he really loves, coaching the national side.
In a valley between snowy mountains shrouded with mist and criss-crossed with some 260 kilometres of ski slopes, you’ll find Innsbruck, the capital of the Alps. Synonymous with skiing, it’s one of only three places to have twice hosted the Winter Olympics and it was also here that, infamously, 17 of the 54 competitors were injured in one of the most brutal downhill skiing races of all time at the 1936 World Championships. A population of roughly 120,000 is swollen every year beyond realms of comprehension, as millions are wooed by the region’s beautiful, yet punishing, snowy-white curves. Putting that allure into numbers, last year it hosted no fewer than 3.2m overnight stays. By comparison, only Vienna can compete with the allure of Innsbruck when it comes to tourism in Austria.
It’s not just turned the heads of skiers however, as some 500 or so years back, Emperor Maximillian, then fronting up a little organisation known as the Holy Roman Empire, made it his home, following in the footsteps of his Innsbruck-born father and predecessor as emperor, Frederick III.
Amid the pure white mountains of europe and north america, you can still bring a splash of colour with J.Lindeberg