Hooked on Rugby

Thank goodness we are half way through January already.  I don’t want to wish my life away but really, January?  It’s a difficult month.  Earlier this week I was extolling the virtues of this year’s January weather on my early morning radio show.  Walking into the office at 4.30am if felt almost spring like.  ‘January hasn’t been too cold’ I said, ‘it’s been rather dry since Christmas’.  I knew as soon I said it that it was probably going to be a big mistake to tempt fate, and especially tempt the weather.  By the time I’d packed up my Cd’s and stepped back out on Alexandra Road by 6.45am it had started to rain, and I definitely felt a chill in the air.

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All of this means that no matter how positive I try to be about the first month of the year I really do need something to look forward to. That’s why the created the 6 Nations.  I didn’t come from a rugby playing family.  My father had lost a friend through a bad rugby accident when he was a lad in Pontrhydyfen so he encouraged my brothers and me to play with a round ball.  Because of that I obviously picked up some bad association football ways so much so that my physics teacher Dr Mort would often say to me, ‘Pope, you’re a typical soccer player!’

My spring love affair with rugby stretches way back to when a try was worth only 3 points and I think the conversion was 2.  The 6 Nations competition only had 5 teams in it and Wales won the triple crown and Grand Slam every year.  The Spring tournament was always a family affair.  Even my grandmother Myfanwy would join us as we gathered around the TV to watch Gareth Edwards, Barry John, Phil Bennett and Mervyn Davies dance their way around the other 4 nations to yet another win.

If it was like that in our chapel loving soccer household, how much more exciting must it be if you are a mad rugby fan or if you have family involved in the competition.

This year I’m going to find out first hand.  Over the Christmas period I got talking to an old friend of mine who just happened to be the father in law of James Hook.  It’s only when you start to look in depth at his career that you realise how much he has accomplished. For many, James’ best position was fly half but he was also able to play centre and full back as well as occasionally ending up on the wing.

He first made the Welsh squad as semi professional.  He was playing for Neath when he heard the news that he had been included in the Welsh squad to tour Argentina. He made his home debut against Australia coming on as substitute for Stephen Jones.  Typical of James he scored 13 points and was named Man of the Match. In 2007 his versatility meant he played at centre for most of the tournament.  It wasn’t until the final game against England that produced yet another man of the match performance in his favoured No 10 role.

He scored tries as a British Lion and exceled as a club player for Perpignan in France and latterly at Gloucester before now returning home to the Ospreys.

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When you meet James you wouldn’t think that he carries all of those achievements.  He is more likely to talk about his family and how he enjoys coaching the youngsters in Mumbles and watching his sons play ‘soccer’.

But for the next few weeks that is going to change.   After talking to his father in law over Christmas I got thinking.  I have a small TV studio and James has some amazing contacts with former players and friends form the world of rugby.  Maybe there was a way we could work together to produce a video podcast to talk all things 6 nations and find out what its really like to be right at the centre of a nations hopes and dreams.

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What I always tell people when they see cameras and sound equipment is that anyone can buy the gear it is really all about the Idea, it’s all about the content.  I’m reminded of the man who went up to Chet Atkins the amazing guitarist and told him what a wonderful sound his guitar made.  Apparently, Chet Atkins took the guitar off his shoulders, rested it against a wall and asked, ‘How good does it sound now?’.  The gear can be great but it still has to be used by people to make it work.

James and I met just after the turn of the new year and since then we’ve been chatting about what content we want to create, who we would like to talk to and what we might be able to ask our guests that maybe some of the other ‘TV Shows’ don’t have time to ask.  Guests will always be a key element in a show like the one we envisage, and the great thing is James knows everyone.  Although this might sound like the start of a joke we thought we ought to get a Welshman, an Irishman, an Englishman, a Scot, a Frenchman and an Italian.

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Our interviewed with George North was interrupted by his dog Darcy

This week we started recording our shows ‘Hooked On Rugby’.  Our first guest was George North.  He is currently preparing for the 6 nations as once again he has been included in the Welsh squad.  He’s a busy man but when James asked him if he would take part he said yes straight away.  Now as a ‘typical soccer player’ I have a very special role to play in the podcasts…my role was to ask the stupid questions! I thought that if we got two internationals together to talk about rugby we end up discussion the modern scrum and the use of the TMO.  I was very much mistaken.

This was a chat between 2 friends.  They shared a love of rugby, but they also shared stories from off the field.  What struck me was how they talked with such emotion about what it felt like to run onto the pitch in Cardiff before a sell out crowd.

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Pitch Invasion by george’s dad after he scored his first try for Wales

James asked George if he thought his dad was going to make an appearance in this year’s tournament.  That all stems from the fact that when George scored his first try for Wales there was a pitch invasion, but it was only George’s dad running on to give his son a hug before being escorted off the pitch by the stewards.

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George’s dad escorted form the pitch by stewards!!!

George asked James how his heart was these days after having scared the life out of him on numerous occasions by hiding in cupboards or wardrobes when they were on tour before jumping out and scaring the life out of him.  (We have footage of both of these events in the show)

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Tommy Bowe Live from Ireland

Our next guest was the Irish International Tommy Bowe.  Tommy is an old friend from the days they played together for the Ospreys.  Tommy has now retired and has a new career as a broadcaster.  He has his own clothing range and a Welsh wife and young daughter. Again, lots of banter and lots of good shared stories.

We are now lining up guest from the other nations.  Its been fun so far and I really hope rugby fans and ‘typical soccer players’ alike will enjoy the show.  James might be coming to the end of his career as a rugby player but I have a feeling we’ll be hearing and seeing more of James Hook over the next few years.

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