Rugby Union: Bayfield's rough guide to rucks and mauls

RUGBY UNION England's former giant lock forward adapts to life away from the scrum after injury ruins World Cup dreams
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The Independent Online
WE ARE due to meet at Northampton Rugby Club, a club Martin Bayfield served with distinction as a formidable second row forward, and where he now runs the coaching and youth development academy. I ask the receptionist how I will recognise him. Just my little joke. For the former England and Lions lock stands 6ft 10in in his stockinged feet. He was 5ft 4in at eight years old, and 6ft 4in at 12. He used to take his birth certificate to junior rugby matches, in case it was needed to placate the opposition's indignant dads. "Oi, he's never 12!" was a regular cry from the touchline.

Bayfield is still only 32, but was forced to retire after rupturing a disc in training last February. A surgeon told him that the best he could hope for, if it happened again, was to spend the rest of his days in a wheelchair. So, amid much wailing and gnashing of teeth, he called it a day. "It was a hell of a shock," he says. "I never thought I was the sort of person who could suffer from depression, but it was pretty bad at the back end of last year, and it put terrible pressure on my family. I've got three young daughters. We didn't know whether we could afford to stay where we were, whether we'd have to take the kids out of school ..."

He has come to terms with all that now, and talks enthusiastically about his new job, about Northampton's apprentice scheme, about his efforts promoting rugby in schools. It is heartening to find a youngish man putting something back into a sport from which he derived so much pleasure as a player. Indeed, rugby can't have many more impressive ambassadors than this gigantic, articulate and highly engaging former policeman. I ask how he thinks Italy will fare in the new Six Nations' Championship.

"I think they'll get stuffed for the first few years," he says. "But if, in 10 years' time, they have a strong international team and a strong club structure, then we can all give ourselves a pat on the back. For we will have helped a sport to rise from the grass roots and thrive. If, on the other hand, we allow them to come here and laugh at them, and suggest they are unworthy to be playing us, then we'll have done rugby a disservice."

Sound stuff. Bayfield also thinks that, to spread the rugby gospel, England should play some internationals away from Twickenham. "Against Canada or whoever, we should go to Anfield or Old Trafford. And we should make a thing of it. Surround it with coaching clinics, with roadshows, go into schools." He's not holding his breath. "Twickenham has massive debts to pay off, and all the debenture holders would scream, `we want internationals here'. But I think it's a shame. How many schoolkids recognise Matt Perry, the England full-back? We need to change all that, market the game better. We should be right up there with football, but we're still a million miles behind."

Next month's World Cup, of course, should help to narrow the gap. We discuss England's prospects. "My heart says they'll win the thing," says Bayfield, "but my head says no further than the semi-final. They probably have the best defence in the world but the finishing is not quite there. They're a bit one-dimensional, and for all the ball that they win, they don't put enough pressure on the opposition. We've seen incredible development with Wales and Scotland, not so much with England. But they're almost there, and could get there in time.

"They certainly won't lose the World Cup because they're not fit enough, and Clive Woodward has the clubs to thank for that. Our clubs now have the best coaches in the world, and have really developed things like fitness and dietary programmes. Four years ago, England was basically the only forum for all that. The preparation this time leaves our preparation for the last World Cup for dead. Talk to Matt Dawson and Nick Beal. The training they've done is incredible."

As for personnel, Bayfield reckons that England's key player will be the Leicester centre Will Greenwood, if fully fit. At outside-half, he favours Paul Grayson over the wunderkind Jonny Wilkinson, "because I think he's the better man to do a job, but once the ball goes beyond fly-half, I think Greenwood offers more than the others. Phil de Glanville is solid. Jerry [Guscott] will still have flashes of brilliance. Catty [Mike Catt] struggles to know what people want him to do. He can be brilliant, but he can be decidedly average."

Bayfield himself played 31 times for England, alongside several of the current team, including his close friend Jason Leonard, Kyran Bracken, Tim Rodber, Guscott, and, his companion in the second row, Martin Johnson. "Johnno is basically the team's talisman," he says. "Every guy he plays against feels intimidated by him. He looks intimidating, with that great big forehead of his, and he doesn't say much, but he captained the Lions to a series win over South Africa, so he's got a proven track record. England got used to a certain type of captain with Will Carling, and they felt they had to continue with that, which is why Lawrence Dallaglio got the job, but actually I think Martin's appointment is no bad thing."

And l'affaire Dallaglio? "I couldn't believe it. By his own admission he was incredibly naive, but if you're going to accuse a guy of a criminal offence and hang him out to dry as a criminal, then you've got to have evidence that will stand up in a criminal court. And they didn't. So that's my take on the situation. Besides, in my experience Lawrence is a good guy. The life and soul of any party, but honest and hardworking too."

Bayfield admits that England's players sampled ecstasy during the 1995 World Cup, but only in the form of a quarter-final victory over Australia. That was comfortably the zenith of his five-year international career. Unfortunately, the nadir followed close behind, in that semi-final thrashing by a Jonah Lomu-inspired New Zealand.

"If ever a player had his moment, it was Lomu in that World Cup," he says. "How they failed to win the thing, I'll never know. I remember standing under the posts at Cape Town, seven minutes gone and 12-0 down. They were awesome." Did he encounter Lomu, physically? "Just once. I hit him in a ruck and tried to drive him back. I had my arm round his thigh, and I remember thinking `this is a big old lump'. They were just so intimidating that day. Frank Bunce hit me in the tackle and it was the hardest I've ever been hit. He cut me in half. And as he got up he trod on my ankle, stuck his hand in my face, thrust his fingers up my nose ..."

How pleasant. I quiz Bayfield further on the delights of rucking and mauling in international rugby. "Johan Le Roux, the guy who was banned for biting Sean Fitzpatrick's ear, was the worst I ever came across," he says. "He had all the tricks. The gouging. And the bag-snatching, where they grab your bollocks, which is not comfortable. That's why [Argentina's] Freddie Mendes famously whacked Paul Ackford, isn't it, because he alleged that Jeff Probyn had squeezed him and he just hit the nearest guy."

Knowing Probyn, such below-the-belt transgressions were unthinkable, right? "No comment. But Le Roux was terrible. So in 1994, in the second Test against South Africa, we tried to give it back. Every time we went clattering into a ruck or maul we'd punch him and kick him, and every time he'd be yelling `I love it, I love it, give me more!' We thought, `what a nutter!'. Also, I remember piling into a ruck against New Zealand and every one of us ran up Sean Fitzpatrick's back. We gave him a real hard going over. But he just got up, didn't say a word. He used to cheat all the time and liked to intimidate the referee, but he didn't mind the same thing happening to him."

In my own humble rugby-playing career, I tell Bayfield, the worst miscreants by far were the police. We used to have university matches against the local constabulary, intended as public relations exercises, indeed I still have a kink in my nose thanks to the highly developed PR skills of an 18-stone sergeant. He chuckles. "I'd have to agree with that. I once played for the Met against South Wales Police, and I was told it would be hairy, but it was the most violent game ever. Three or four were sent off and there was even some communication afterwards between the Met commissioner and their chief constable, to the effect that it mustn't happen again."

In fact, Bayfield owes his first England cap to the over-exuberance of PC Wade Dooley, who broke his hand belting an opponent in a match against Queensland on the 1991 tour of Australia and Fiji. "Wade's explanation was typical police-speak ... his head came into contact with my fist." Bayfield roars with laughter. "So that's how I got my debut against Fiji. And it showed the wonderful bumbly mechanics of the Rugby Football Union, because they hadn't anticipated that anyone would win a cap out there, so I was presented with Roger Uttley's tie. I'm shaking hands and he's undoing his tie. They flew one out in time for the next match, and Roger said `I'll have my ****** tie back now'."

The RFU - or at any rate the then England coach Jack Rowell - were guilty of a more serious error in the 1995 World Cup, Bayfield believes. After the triumph against Australia, the team was allowed three days R&R at the Sun City resort. "It was the worst possible preparation for the semi- final and with hindsight we should have said no. I know Deano [Dean Richards, the England No 8] was not too impressed that we went to Sun City. Because while we were lounging around drinking beers, New Zealand were kicking chunks out of each other and really psyching themselves up. I'm sure that's partly why they obliterated us on the day." Clive Woodward, take heed.