A new journal capturing the spirit of the greatest game

Extracts from the second issue of RUGBY...

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Marcus Smith

He ‘runs like Forrest Gump’, could’ve been in the next Jonas Brothers, almost played for Tottenham Hotspur and his dad is a country-hopping rugby international. His mum though, gave him the skills. This is Marcus Smith.

It was never in doubt. As long as his mum Suzanne had anything to do with it, Marcus Smith was always going to be something. His brothers, Tomas and Luc, too. Rugby players, footballers, pop stars. “I used to play guitar when I was younger,” explains Marcus. “My mum had this idea that she wanted to make us into a Jonas Brothers sort of thing – my youngest brother (Tomas) used to sing and play the piano, the middle one (Luc) played the drums and then it was me on guitar. I was never a big fan of the Jonas Brothers, but she loved them.

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Shetland RFC

‘We had to play Stornoway in the Western Isles. We took a 14-hour ferry, a six-hour bus ride and then another three-hour ferry. We lost. It wasn’t even a tour, just another league game. We’d left on Thursday night and got back to Shetland on Tuesday morning.’

Our plane is roughly the size of a Pringle can and, in high winds, appears to drop onto an airstrip that didn’t seem to be there a second ago. As we approached the island, falling lower and lower from the sky and ever-closer to the ground, the wait to see a bit of land vaguely resembling tarmac was endless. The gale force winds had already buffeted our intimate propeller plane (small enough to be able to see out of both windows without moving and perhaps, with a bit of a stretch, touch both sides) enough to make us regret the greasy sausage square we’d wolfed down at the last airport.

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All Mitsubishi RFC

At Kingsholm on a Wednesday afternoon, Gloucester played familiar yet completely unknown opposition. Chosen from a workforce of 33,000 and powered by one of the world’s biggest corporations, their visitors have built ships, planes and cars, designed cameras, brewed beer, and even won world rally championships.

For perhaps the only time in its history, Gloucester’s support is outnumbered at Kingsholm. The Shed is deathly silent. Even the cherry and white shirts have been taken off their backs, with the opposition wearing these colours. They’ve even got the Mitsubishi sponsorship. But then, they can probably justify it, given they are actually Mitsubishi or the All Mitsubishi Rugby Club to give them their proper title. 

“Football was definitely my sport until I was 15, but Tottenham broke me. They watched me for a couple of games, then I went for a trial...”
— Marcus Smith
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Jamaica

As the army swept into the neighbourhood, Tyronie Rowe heard people were dying in the streets and so he ran. He’d already seen two friends die, shot in the head, and, surrounded by gunfire, he ran for his life. His rugby team-mate was coming to get him and he was going to escape. Tivoli Gardens in Kingston, Jamaica, is a tough place to grow up. Out of a group of 11 close childhood friends, he’s the only one left. And, he says, that’s down to rugby.

To Tyronie Rowe, North Finchley is paradise. He doesn’t use those words, but near enough. Not that there’s anything wrong with North Finchley. The north London suburb in the borough of Barnet is perfectly fine. We meet Tyronie at Finchley Rugby Club – it’s your typical rugby club, the sort of thing you’d find in any town, village or city. Sandwiched between Wingate and Finchley Football Club on one side and the local tip on the other, a school next to that.

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Coventry Rugby

It’s survived World Wars, industrial collapse and royal insults, but Coventry has always shrugged its shoulders and got on with it. Its rugby club is no different. Once, only hours from extinction, it now turns over £1.6m, regularly pulls in crowds of over 2,000 (in the third tier), has internationals both playing and coaching, and has run away with the league title. And that’s before we mention UB40 and Steps.

Coventry rarely gets the credit it deserves, just ask Sam McNulty. “Not a lot of people know this, but the enigma code was cracked and they knew Coventry was going to get bombed because we were supporting the war by making tanks,” explains the Coventry-born backrower. “But they couldn’t evacuate the city because they’d have known we’d cracked it, so they let them bomb Coventry. We took a hit for the country. That’s the way Coventry rolls.”

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Adam Jones

This man could’ve been processing your driving licence. instead, he won grand slams, tamed the beast and has just finished the lego friends snow resort hot chocolate van – with a little help from Isla.

The box says ‘six to 12 years’ but with daughter Isla at the lower-end of that range, there’s a good chance dad has applied some of his own deft plastic brickwork skills to get the job finished on time. What looks like the foundations for a speedboat (or perhaps another motorhome, quite hard to tell) lies nearby – a job left for another day,  perhaps. Construction projects are always infamously prone to delays. 

Either way, while the two-bedroom flat in Guildford has Adam Jones’s name on the lease, it’s definitely Isla who has done most of the decorating – her artwork covers virtually every surface.

“We ended up in a burger bar at two in the morning and Gats was there. I went up to him and asked if he wanted to sign me for Wasps. He didn’t remember it – he was as drunk as me.”
— Adam Jones
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Rotherham Titans

A workforce of 70-somethings, salsa, spiritual healing, karaoke, quiz nights and the occasional funeral – when you’re Rotherham Titans, it takes more than just rugby to keep things ticking along.

Phil Duke emerges from the Rotherham Titans clubhouse beneath a sign with the words writ large, ‘Good People, Good Environment’. A gentle giant of a man, he’s been painting one of the offices inside and is coming out to have a chat with his former team-mate Dave Hudson who’s been busying himself with the electrics pitchside. “See that grey box down there,” Dave points out what we guess is a junction box attached to the fencing, “well, I’m taking power from there and taking it out to the shed over there – we’re going to have some electric signs towards the road, advertising the club."

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Tony Rowe, Exeter Chiefs

A car accident and a packet of fags led him to amass a collection of 384 fire engines of assorted sizes. A moment of inspiration led him to build a multi-million-pound business in an industry he knew nothing about. and when a friend asked him to help a club ‘on their arse’, he turned them into champions of england. These things happen when you’re Tony Rowe.

Tony Rowe finishes making wife Sharon a cup of tea and takes it upstairs. After delivering it, we can hear his parting response to her query of what we’re talking about, “Just bits and pieces,” he says.  In the life of the Exeter Chiefs chairman there’s been an awful lot of bits and pieces.

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Mike Rayer

Steel worker, garage manager, mobile crane salesman, international, European Cup finalist, world’s first transfer fee rugby player (probably), American rugby galactico (almost), All Black beater (nearly), Don King victim, Cardiff legend, beer muse, and England’s longest-standing director of rugby – life has never been dull for Mike Rayer.

Every day Rory Underwood, Scott Murray and Paul Turner look down upon Mike Rayer’s desk in his portacabin office at Goldington Road, Bedford. Pinned to a wall in a team photo, they’re just a few of the names in the line-up that wore the Bedford Blues colours in England’s highest rugby division. “That was twenty years ago this year,” explains Mike. “We’re having a bit of a reunion at the end of season club dinner, so I’ve been in touch with quite a few of them recently – a lot have come through actually.

“Today I’ll have 800 people dining and we’ll take £130,000 on the bars. We’re Heineken’s largest single drop-off customer, I think we sold 340,000 pints last season.”
— Tony Rowe
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Battersea Ironsides RFC

Colonel E H St Maur Toope didn’t enjoy the best of starts for his 42nd Royal Tank Regiment Cadets XV. During that maiden season of 1944, both the Sea Cadets and 1258 Squadron ATC defeated his fledgling squad. Today though, his Ironsides are quite the formidable army – more than 1,000 of them fighting for the honour of the badge on the fields of south west London every week. And that’s just the juniors. 

The plastic gold chairs are stacked high in one corner with the rest of the tables and assorted chairs pushed to one side, probably to create a dancefloor. There’s also a pile of deflated air guitars and saxophones with accompanying chains, wigs and hats – clear signs of a good night at any rugby club.

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Topsy Ojo

Two Tests, two tries, against the All Blacks. Without even mentioning the 73 scores for London Irish, Topsy Ojo already has enough for a thousand after-dinner speeches. Alternatively, he could just hand the floor to Eden Ojo, now there’s a talker.  

Eden Ojo isn’t going to miss out on this interview. First, she pulls herself up onto the chair next to us to sit opposite her dad, as if ready to begin the questioning herself. Then, as the talking begins, she decides instead to jump down and move her chair next to dad. Finally, she realises that’s not close enough and abandons her chair altogether to sit on dad’s lap. 

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Style - j.Lindeberg

Switch your wardrobe from spring to summer with this collection of Scandi-style game-changers from J.Lindeberg.

“I had offers, a couple in France, but I don’t regret
not moving though,” he insists. “At the time it was the right decision for me.”
— Topsy Ojo