In our July edition of Rugby World, The Secret Player opened up about the end-of-season all-day and team-bonding in the close-season
The off-season has finally arrived and professional rugby players around the country are resting their battered carcasses after another long year of sponsored brutality. The length of the break varies from club to club, and may depend on how well the preceding season went. A poor finish in the league can lead to a week or two of your summer holiday being lopped off as the management will want a bit of extra-time to flog the squad into better rugby players, perhaps treating you all to an army boot camp in North Wales or some other hellish culture-building experience.
Ironically, those at the better clubs might also find themselves with less time on their hands than the mid-table plodders, as success leads to extra games in the play-offs eating into their mojito time, and the top boys may also have international duty over the summer to keep them busy. With a home World Cup in a few months, internationals will be lucky if they get any time off at all this year. You see, son, it pays to be mediocre sometimes. At least it does if you prefer travelling round Thailand for a month over getting ready to play the All Blacks in a final.
The average break these days is five weeks or so, which sounds a long time to your average desk jockey but is entirely necessary to allow a player’s mind and body to reset itself before getting back on the hamster wheel.
The problem is, you spend the second half of that time with the creeping dread of the pain you are going to go through in pre-season hanging over you. Like many players, I always found it hard to completely relax and would end up doing CrossFit classes or hill sprints at 7am every morning (not that it did me much good).
The time I spent playing in France went some way to curing this neurosis, as nobody can switch off like the French. It also helped to know that the pre-season training awaiting you would be perfunctory at best.
Your average rugby player isn’t on footballer’s wages so any holiday will generally be to a bog-standard resort somewhere in the Mediterranean or the Canaries, and often with the missus, as rugby players tend to ‘settle down’ at a very young age. Meanwhile, those with foresight and ambition will spend the break diligently doing work experience in the profession they hope to move into after rugby. Unfortunately, I possess neither foresight nor ambition, so never quite got round to it.
In any case, before all the professional relaxation can officially start, you have to safely negotiate the club’s end-of-season do. This is usually an ‘all-dayer’ the day after the final game of the season – either a Super Sunday or a Mad Monday. Frankly, it’s a recipe for disaster. There will have been nights out during the year, of course, but this will probably be the only time that the entire squad has gone out en masse. And been quite this drunk.
The day will often take place in a different city to avoid the opprobrium of the club’s fans, but the perceived anonymity this affords only prompts players to greater feats of outrageousness/stupidity. Rugby players have a proud tradition of behaving like tits on a night out, and you don’t have to do much scratching to find professionalism’s veneer of respectability is thinner than the walnut dash in a Rover 45. The EOS party provides a perfect storm of booze, testosterone and either frustration or jubilation at the team’s performance over the previous nine months. Something will go wrong. At each club I’ve played at there has been at least one player fined, suspended or, at worst, shepherded out the door due to a Super Sunday incident.
I never got involved in anything illegal or that could affect my livelihood – I like money too much for that – but my final act at my last club was getting wrestled through a glass table by the second-choice hooker, as a reward for my general dick-ishness on our big day out. I quickly took myself off for a spew and a curry before the bus home, and as I contemplated the river of urine and vomit that was sloshing up and down its aisle I could only conclude that this was one part of rugby I wouldn’t miss.
The five-week holidays, on the other hand…