The professional era has made the concept of a ‘one-club man’ seem as outdated as cotton shirts and players having a pint (or ten) with the opposition after a match. But one player in the England set-up is happy to buck the trend.
Born and raised in Leicester, it seems that Louis Deacon was destined to play for the Tigers and, since joining them as a teenager, he has fought his way to become a first-choice lock for England. He says: “It was a dream to play for Leicester from a young age and I never thought about leaving a club I was once desperate to play for. I don’t want to leave unless I have to, and I hope they feel the same.
“I feel lucky to be at Leicester. The club has a great culture and great traditions. It’s the only club I’ve ever been at so it’s the only one I know, but I think it’s the best club around.
“It’s the players within Leicester that drive the work ethic. Leicester is renowned for the way the boys train, the contact and how physical it is. In the early days I never held back in training, but now, as I’ve got older, I’ve learnt to back off a little and try to prepare as well as I possibly could for the game as that is more important.”
His connection with the England manager goes back to his early days at the club when Martin Johnson was the man standing between him and a place in the first team. So it’s no wonder Johnson always turns to Deacon when he is fit – he knows the lock so well.
“Ben (Kay) and Johnno were the top two and I was in behind, so I learnt so much from them – it was great experience,” says Deacon. “At Leicester this year it’s the same and we have more second-rows than we’ve ever done, so I’m having the same done to me.
“As a young guy training against players like those two I regarded training as my game. They’d come off the game at the weekend stiff and sore for our Tuesday session and I’d be there fresh and ready to go. That’s how it is and that tends to drive the team.”
One of the things driving England is a club culture that has come to the fore in New Zealand. When the going gets tough the Class of 2011 will close ranks and stay loyal to one another. Deacon says: “Since Johnno took over that’s been something he’s really focused on. In the past you didn’t really know the other players you were in the England squad with. You’d just talk about rugby and that was it, but now getting to know the guys better has been beneficial for all of us.
We wanted a club culture and that is happening. We all know each other very well and we have a good England culture.
“That culture comes across when we’re having tough times on the pitch. Look at our opening game in the World Cup against Argentina – some teams would have lost that having been behind after 60 minutes, like we were.”
It is a testament to Deacon’s quiet nature that most rugby fans probably wouldn’t regard him as England’s first-choice lock, alongside Courtney Lawes, but it’s clear that Johnson does. Deacon has been involved in every RBS 6 Nations match in the past two seasons, even though he missed the 2010 summer tour of Australasia and the subsequent autumn Tests because of a back injury. Those injuries have stopped him probably doubling his tally of England caps.
“Back in 2010 when I missed the tour to Australia it was difficult to see myself playing for England again,” admits Deacon. “But things can change quickly if you’re patient and get your head down. When you’re out of a team that’s the time to work hard. That period was a great time for me because I came back in the best shape I could have done. The last 12 to 18 months have gone really well for me.”
Deacon’s job both with Leicester and England is not to gallop into open field or make the killer pass that might come from a player like Lawes, but to do the hard, unseen graft that every rugby team needs. Every successful England side has had at least one heavy tractor in the engine room and Deacon is now fulfilling that role.
“Courtney and I complement each other very well. We’re very different players, who do different jobs, but you need that in a team,” Deacon says. “It’s always been one of my goals to be involved in a World Cup. In 2007 I got down to the last few players before being cut and I was massively disappointed. Things moved on and my international career stuttered a little because of my injuries.
“It’s great to know that the England coaches believe I can do a job for my country now. With the Leicester connection they’re probably in the best place to judge me. I played most of the 2010 Six Nations carrying injuries and it wears you down. Now I feel the best I have done for a long time.”
That state of body and mind has stood him in good stead. And with more chances in an England shirt to come, perhaps everyone will start to hold him in the same regard as Johnson – like Deacon, the personification of a one-club man.
This article appeared in the November 2011 issue of Rugby World Magazine.
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