Phil Vickery: "I'm Queen and country - I don't give a s**t what anyone else thinks"

If rugby matches were decided by pride in the jersey, any team including Phil Vickery would win by a street. The Raging Bull tells us why, when it comes to England, there is plenty more left in the tank
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Phil Vickery may have every meaningful medal in his trophy cabinet and he is showing more than a few scars from a life at the top of professional rugby.

Yet at the age of 32, the England and London Wasps prop is not even beginning to contemplate a life away from the sport he so dearly loves. Far from it in fact - he still has a burning ambition to pick up more silverware on the domestic and international scene.

World Cup, Six Nations Grand Slam, Heineken Cup, Guinness Premiership - you name it and Vickery has won it during an illustrious career.

After 11 years at Gloucester, Vickery has enjoyed a golden two-year period at Wasps and his spell at the club has been made all the sweeter by the fact it comes following a fightback from career-threatening injuries.

After helping England lift the World Cup in 2003, Vickery suffered a smashed eye socket that required surgery, a broken arm that needed plates and screws inserted into it and underwent three operations on a recurring back problem.

The third of those back operations - to repair a flaking disc - took place in February 2006 and left Vickery genuinely concerned that a life away from rugby was just around the corner.

"I can honestly say I am genuinely enjoying my rugby more than I ever have," insists Vickery. "I'm even enjoying training. It's just a really nice time at the moment.

"The fact that I thought my career might have been over a couple of years ago has something to do with it. When I met with Ian McGeechan to talk about coming to Wasps I was in a really bad way, to be honest. I didn't really know which way it was going to go. At the end of May that first year I was on the pitch at Twickenham with a Heineken Cup winner's medal around my neck and my daughter down there with me. It was a special moment.

"And then I got back to playing for England and enjoyed the highs and lows of that and then the World Cup in France (where he skippered his country to the final). And last year I was on the pitch again with a Guinness Premiership medal. It has far exceeded my wildest expectations."

Despite his recent successes at Wasps, there are no signs of Vickery slipping quietly into pipe and slippers mode.

"Physically, I'm in good shape," insists the bulldozing front row. "I've made a conscious effort to shift a little weight so I can get some of that mobility back in my game.

"As long as I am wanted, as long as I'm offering something and people have confidence and belief in me, I genuinely want to keep playing. You have to be careful because I don't want to be an old guy hanging around and drifting. As long as I'm pushing for a place, I'll be happy."

With Martin Johnson now presiding over the national team, Vickery is honoured to play for his former team-mate and close friend. And for the passionate Cornishman, the honour of pulling on his England shirt has certainly not diminished over the years.

"Playing for your country is just the best thing you could ever do," Vickery insists. "To stand on the pitch and sing the national anthem makes me so proud. I'm Queen and country - I don't give a shit what anyone else thinks about it. When I pull that England shirt on and wear that red rose, I wear it with a huge amount of pride knowing I am carrying the dreams of millions of people. That is a real privilege.

"There's a lot of talk about England at the moment and I would dearly love to be involved and be part of that team. If I'm not being picked, I hope whatever I'm doing is pushing somebody else to get that spot and I'm making them raise their game and contributing to an atmosphere within that team that is ultimately going to bring us success."

While he is keen to impress his new national team boss, that's not going to stop Vickery from winding Johnno up every now and then.

"It has been strange," Vickery reveals. "When he got up at our first team meeting he said he wasn't going to look out for me because I always give him a bit of stick. I used to do that when we were players and I thought, 'Well, I'm not going to change now.'

"Johnno is a great guy and I consider him to be a friend of mine. I hope it goes well for him, regardless of whether I'm involved or not. But I do hope I still have something to offer."

What the veteran Vickery is offering at international level is a wealth of experience and key advice that can be passed on to younger members of Johnson's squad.

"I'm fortunate that I've been part of an England team that was very successful and the best in the world," he stresses. "I see a lot of the young guys now and I wish I could just explain to them and almost give them a tablet of what it feels like to be part of that and what it takes to get there because it's not just going to happen overnight. I hope to play a part in that."

And it's the same at club level where Vickery is determined to leave a legacy behind at Wasps.

"I'm trying to be one of those who passes things on to the younger guys," he says. "I try to remember what it was like for me when I first got into the England scene or first played in the senior team at Gloucester. It's not so much a rugby thing but just going to say hello to a young lad, it just makes that player feel good. I'll never forget Lawrence Dallaglio welcoming me into the England fold and I felt on top of the world.

"I always make sure I say hello to the young guys - there is a front row at the club at the moment who has just had his knee done and he has a horrible scar on his leg. It was his first day at the gym last week and I could see he was really struggling on some stuff because his leg is wasted away and is about as big as my arm. I went up to him and said I thought he had done really well and he said, 'Oh, thanks very much.' I just wanted to give him a boost."

While he would like to lay a foundation for the future, Vickery can't afford to look too far ahead. He still has a key role to play for a Wasps side that has made a disastrous start to the 2008-09 campaign. But there is no pushing the panic button at Adams Park.

"When have Wasps ever got off to a good start?" Vickery asks. "We certainly haven't done that in my two years at the club. People talk about the void left by Lawrence Dallaglio. Well, you're never going to replace Lawrence and for me to sit here and say, 'Lawrence is gone and nobody notices' would be a stupid thing to say.

"But at the same time, the greatest attribute you can give Lawrence is what he has left behind. There are young guys at the club who have had the Wasps' mentality passed down to them.

"It's about going out and performing. It's up to guys to step up to the plate and perform and it doesn't matter if Lol is there or not, if you go out on that field and don't perform to a good enough standard, you will lose. That is a fact."

This story was sourced from International Rugby News