Chris Maume: Healey brings light to the Barbarians

The Big Tackle: ITV1, Wednesday
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With his all-round gobbiness and generously proportioned ego, it was odds-on that Austin Healey would establish a media bridgehead when his playing days were over. And having marked out his territory as rugby union’s Andy Townsend – he was at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday doing his usual reasonably decent analysis job – he’s also pushing to become the oval-ball Gordon Ramsay with a new series clearly inspired by Kitchen Nightmares, in which the chef with the F-word attempts to turn round restaurants on the rocks.

Bristol Barbarians were Healey’s first guinea pigs: one draw, no wins, on -1[minus one] points thanks to a cancelled fixture. They’d lost one game 95-0 – probably not that hard when you’re an undisciplined, unmotivated rabble.

The talismanic captain Skuse had resigned; the almost spherical Badger was chairman, tight head prop and now captain as well. The changing rooms were a mucky disgrace, though the bar in the clubhouse looked well stocked and quite cosy. Training consisted of standing round in the cold gingerly chucking the ball to eachother. “Without doubt one of the ugliest rugby clubs I’ve ever seen,” was Healey’s verdict.

The above quote suggests why he could never properly fill Ramsey’s shoes, by the way – not a swear word in sight. In fact the only substantial work for the bleep operative was during a half-time team-talk from one of the coaches.

But the light from Healey’s comet shone into all corners of the club: he became another TV transformation guru for the day, Laurence Llewellyn-Bowen but with considerably less hair, as he cajoled them all into giving the changing rooms a drastic make-over. He went down to the docks on a recruitment drive for big strong lads (whether or not this was for the purposes of the programme I’m not sure; it may have been a purely private matter).

In training he got the players talking to eachother – “a quiet team is a beaten team” – and, crucially, leant on Skuse (not literally, which would have been inadvisable) until he agreed to return as captain till the end of the season.

The first game in the Healey era was another defeat, but this time with honour, the green shoots of recovery poking up through the ankle-deep mud. Next match, they beat Keynsham and the corner appeared to have been turned. Badger was impressed.” This is the start of a new beginning,” he beamed.