POSTCARDS FROM JAPAN

In the first of what will be a regular blog all the way from Japan, Dave will give an insight into his new life and cultural experiences.

It finally dawned on me today that 12 seasons of professional rugby in England have come to an end.After a couple of moments feeling sorry for myself, my impending move to Mitsubishi Sagamihara Dynaboars and a new life in Japan took over and the sadness turned to excitement. I have had some amazing times and been lucky enough to play with and against some of the greatest players to have graced the world of rugby and it got me thinking: What would I remember most?

Being chastised by Inga Tuigamala for swearing on my first day in the changing room at Newcastle? The hours upon hours of kicking with Jonny? Lawrence Dallaglio’s speech before the Guinness Premiership Final in Martin Johnson’s farewell match?

Or when playing for England against the Barbarians and Jonah Lomu when, at one point, I thought I’d tackled him only to open my eyes and find he’d left me his boot as he ran under the posts?

But eventually I came almost full circle to the old days of University and club rugby. Two of the fondest memories I have were drinking sessions after games which showed that the professional game has not strayed too far from its amateur roots.

The first was after a cup victory against a Rosslyn Park side who had played several rounds just to get to the stage where the Premiership teams entered the tournament. After a game which ebbed and flowed Newcastle came out on top and went on to win the cup that year.

However, our win on the pitch was overshadowed by the Rosslyn Park boys’ performance in the boat races and drinking games which followed. The clubhouse was jammed full of players and supporters and the camaraderie between the clubs that night was something special. It was nice to share a drink with some of those familiar faces when I returned to The Rock to coach Rosslyn Park this year.

The second trip was a European Challenge Cup group game in Spain against VRAC. Numerous bottles of wine were put away the night before the game in a restaurant owned by one of the Spanish players where both squads were dining.

It turned out to be a warm up for the post match function. After the game we were bussed to the club bar in town and then on to the town hall. Welcoming speeches from the mayor and club officials were brief and we were hustled into the dining room. On entering, the VRAC players were seated with spaces in between and a few of the boys felt it was going to be a long night with the language barrier posing a bit of a problem.

It wasn’t long before their captain seized the opportunity to break the ice by downing his glass of wine and then asking everybody else to follow suit. When everyone had finished, local custom dictated we all stand on our chairs and wave our napkins above our head singing “Ole, Ole, Ole, Ole, Ole, Ole” and it wasn’t long before everybody in the room was fluent. Both evenings were great reminders that in this current era of professionalism, there is still room to have a bit of fun!

I’m not saying that in order to enjoy the post match functions there needs to be an abundance of booze, but clubs in England have a lot to live up to when compared to our European friends. Not only have English teams suffered in the last couple of seasons in the Heineken Cup but they are also beaten hands down in the entertaining stakes after games.

Toulouse and Racing Metro greet you with foie gras and fillet steak accompanied by a wine list good enough to test most sommeliers’ knowledge. In England, it is rubbery chicken with a couple of lettuce leaves followed by lumpy custard on top of a dry crumble.

My sympathy goes out to the chefs who are presumably asked to produce gourmet cooking for 30 players on a limited budget, but if that is the case, is hamburger, chips and ice cream once a week really that bad for you?

Dave will also be writing for skysports.com so keep on checking the RPA website and Sky Sports for all the latest news.