Warrior chief still fighting hard on the front line

Chris Budgen may be the oldest player in the Premiership but the mighty Exeter prop has lost none of his hunger

In his unique dual role as a Premiership rugby player and serving member of Her Majesty's Armed Forces, Lance Corporal Chris Budgen is taking the impending merger of his 2nd Battalion of the Royal Welsh with the 1st – the 2nd's name will disappear – on his ample chin. "There's a lot of history in it but other battalions are amalgamating and losing their names too. The Duke of Wellingtons are a well-known English battalion that are going too, I think, and the Yorkshires. It's modern times and they've got to make cutbacks." Sentimentality, unsurprisingly, does not feature prominently with this tank driver and hard scrummager.

Budgen is also the Premiership's oldest player, at 39 years and counting. He and Exeter arrived in the top division two seasons ago on a stealth mission, tipped by many for immediate relegation. They are out in the open now, after finishing fifth last May and qualifying for a spectacular Heineken Cup pool comprising champions Leinster, Clermont Auvergne – semi-finalists last season – and the Scarlets.

The Chiefs' next five fixtures are Saracens at home today, Leicester, Harlequins, Leinster, Clermont. So far Exeter have a six-try home win over Sale and bonus-point losses away to Northampton and London Welsh. "We slipped up against London Welsh [last Sunday]," says Budgen. "We were 14-0 up and let them right back into it with silly penalties and mistakes." Rob Baxter, the Premiership coach of the year for 2011-12, was upset but took it in his stride. "He doesn't go flying off the handle, he'd rather let 24 hours go, do the analysis and then fire the shots that need firing," says Budgen. "We keep on learning; that's what makes a good team. The club is growing."

Budgen continues to play services rugby when he can, for the Royal Welsh and the overall Army team. While England fumbled around New Zealand at the World Cup last autumn, the Army were there carrying off the International Defence Rugby Competition, beating opposition from Samoa, France, Tonga and Australia. Budgen was treated by the team's sponsor to a ticket to see the All Blacks win the World Cup final in Auckland. As a boy growing up in Hamilton, he had watched the 1987 final, rapt, on TV.

His clipped Kiwi has not been softened by an adult life in the UK, playing rugby for Newbridge from 1998, Northampton (2001-2008) and Exeter; he had joined the New Zealand Defence Force at 17, and in the Army he has been posted to Northern Ireland, Afghanistan and Iraq. "Hanging around with the RSM" is how he describes his present role at the Tidworth Garrison on the edge of Salisbury Plain. When on a previous visit I peered into the confined space of Budgen's Warrior infantry tank it was daunting to picture it chasing at 60mph across the Helmand desert delivering troops to the front line. In 2007 Budgen was stationed at Camp Bastion, currently home to Prince Harry. "I can't see the big fuss about it," says Budgen. "He's done Sandhurst like his brother, he wears the uniform of the military, of the Queen, and it's good to see him out there doing the job he was trained to do. Fair play to him."

Budgen did not feature against London Welsh and he is on the bench today for the third time this season. He scored a trademark try with "a one-yard stretch" against Sale but has been behind Exeter's recent prop signings, Craig Mitchell and Carl Rimmer, though Mitchell is now out with ruptured biceps. Baxter and the team manager, former England prop Robin Cowling, know what it takes to hold a scrummage up and hit rucks. Budgen, at just under 20 stone, has buried his bullish head between a million loosehead props and hookers. He is in perpetual motion – just not very fast.

He says there is no magic secret to his longevity. He is a family man with a 14-year-old son, Dylan, and – joyfully – twins on the way this December. While others fret over their body-mass index, Budgen tops up his training with 20-minute "burners" on the bike or cross-trainer. "Young players are ripped up with six-packs and all that," he says, chuckling. "At the end of the day it's what you can do round the park. If you can smash people and carry the ball well and do what the coaches want, that's what counts."

He wants no fuss around his 40th birthday in January – and then…what? "I've got a contract to the end of this season and I'll go on until there's no contract for me, or the Army takes me somewhere else. In the review I had with Rob he said it's all up to me. If I'm still fit and going strong and playing well, he'd keep me." Budgen has already passed Graham Dawe (39 years and 15 days in 1998) as the Father of the Premiership House. Could he be the league's first 41-year-old player? "It would be nice to keep breaking records wouldn't it?"

Premiership's oldest players

1. Chris Budgen, prop 39 years/246 days – still playing

2. Graham Dawe, hooker 39/15 – final appearance Sept 1998

3. Tony Windo, prop 39/10 – May 2008

4. Gareth Llewellyn, lock 39/4 – March 2008

5. Julian White, prop 38/289 – March 2012

6. Andy Deacon, prop 38/277 – May 2004

7. Mike Catt, back 38/231 – May 2010

8. Danny Grewcock, lock 38/180 – May 2011

9. Olivier Sourgens, prop 38/111 – May 2010

10. Mike Umaga, back 38/79 – May 2004

News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballStriker in talks over £17m move from Manchester United
Sport
Radamel Falcao
footballManchester United agree loan deal for Monaco striker Falcao
Sport
Louis van Gaal, Radamel Falcao, Arturo Vidal, Mats Hummels and Javier Hernandez
footballFalcao, Hernandez, Welbeck and every deal live as it happens
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
News
i100
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
boksUnlike 'talented mediocrity' George Orwell, you must approach this writer dictionary in hand
News
i100
Life and Style
tech

Apple agrees deal with Visa on contactless payments

Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor