Rugby Union: Bateman revels in good life

Robert Cole says the Wales centre is benefiting from the power of relaxation
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THE mark of a great player is that he always seems to have time on his hands. In the case of the Wales centre Allan Bateman it has been a question of more free time making him a better player. As he looks forward to being part of a classic all-Lions midfield contest at Twickenham on Saturday - he and Scott Gibbs for Wales against Jeremy Guscott and Will Greenwood for England - the 32-year-old double international points to the time he now has away from training and playing as the key to his rebirth as a union international.

"People think that if you are a professional sportsman you should be training all the time, but that is not the case," Bateman said. "The quality and quantity of your rest time is vital.

"I don't think I've ever had it so easy in my life as I do now at Richmond. When I was at Warrington I still kept up my day job. Now I don't have to supplement my income with an outside job and I'm free to concentrate fully on my rugby. I've never had so much time to relax and recover and I'm better for it."

Playing for Richmond in the new professional era is light years away from his amateur beginnings at Maesteg. So, too, leafy Esher bears few comparisons with the industrial area of Baglan in South Wales where he lived before heading north to Warrington.

"Part of the reason I quit Neath and joined Warrington in 1990 was because the hours I was putting into my job and my rugby were becoming too great," Bateman said. "I was working a full day in the pathology laboratory in Morriston Hospital, training with Neath and then training with Wales. It was ridiculous.

"What I really needed was for someone to come along and offer me some help so that I didn't need to work so many hours. A sponsored car would have eased the burden, or something that allowed me to work part-time. That didn't happen, I got a bit disillusioned and out of the blue the rugby league offer came along. I admit I didn't really think it through totally, but I decided to go."

Bateman had learnt his rugby at the top end of the Llynfi Valley, playing for Maesteg before joining all-conquering Neath. The switch paid immediate dividends as he was selected for the Welsh side for the final two Five Nations matches of the 1990 campaign.

He followed up those games against Scotland and Ireland with two more Tests on tour in Namibia, but then trod the well-worn path to the north. His departure failed to make a significant impression on the Welsh scene yet it did leave a yawning gap in the nation's midfield resources.

It was only when he began to appear on television in starring roles for Warrington, Wales, Great Britain and the Cronulla Sharks that Welsh rugby fans began to wake up to what they had been missing. "When I first went up to Warrington I went straight to the ground. My first thought as I saw the terraced houses was that it was a typical northern town," Bateman said. "But then I got to know the people and see the area in a different light. It was very friendly and very much like home. I've been very lucky throughout my career in that I've always landed in nice places. I really enjoyed my time in Sydney, playing for Cronulla Sharks, and now I'm based in Esher."

Nowadays it is only a 16-mile round trip to work for the Wales and Lions centre. Weekly sessions with Wales in Cardiff take a little longer, but most of the time Bateman is able to pick up his six-year-old daughter Naomi from school. Having settled in with his wife Nicola just outside Sandown racecourse, it is a fair bet the Batemans will be staying put for a while. "I don't see myself going into coaching or management when I finish playing," he said. "I have had my contract at Richmond extended so I will be there until I am 35.

"After that I would like maybe to stay on as a semi-professional, or perhaps I will just go back into working at a pathology lab. Whatever happens, I could see myself working full-time after my rugby career is over."

Before then he has a number of ambitions to fulfil, such as the small matter of stopping Guscott and company from extending England's dominance over Wales at Twickenham to a full decade. It is very similar to the task that confronted Bateman and his fellow Welsh rugby league players when they met England in the semi-finals of the 1995 World Cup at Old Trafford.

"I think we had the capability in the Welsh team to beat England at Old Trafford, but we were still shattered from our win over Western Samoa," Bateman said. "Our trip to Twickenham is very much like that game although, this time, we not only have the ability but we are also fresh and ready for the challenge."