From the Front Row: Injured Butch always grins and bears it
Shoulder surgery rules Bath fly-half out for two months but you can't wipe the smile off his face
Sunday 19 September 2010
I wish I were a bit more like Butch James. I don't mean all handsome, talented and famous, I mean more permanently upbeat. I would like to think of myself as a positive person but, like most of us, during the hard times I am prone to a bit of a sulk.
If we lose a match I allow my head a set amount of time to hang low and my shoulders to sag. Then I get over it and get on with it. Injuries, though, injuries test me far more. Yes, they are unavoidable in this game of ruffians but that does not seem not to dilute their horridness one little bit.
Arriving at the club to see the rest of the lads analysing this week's opponents and knowing you're not going to be able to contribute a bead of sweat for their cause makes one feel depressingly impotent.
If the coach asks how I am, I invariably lie or bluff: "Really good mate, these physios want to loosen up a bit." Age and experience have not seen me grow out of this childish habit – we all do it. These untruths do nothing but augment the feeling of temporary self-loathing and, while smiling, serve to sink one that little bit lower.
Then it's home to the poor old wife. I think that all rugby clubs ought to have a house they keep free for injured players. A place where they could all stay together (if Bath decide to do this, I want a cleaner, cook and dog walker, thank you). This way, those closest to the invalids would see their suffering stop. The bad moods, low energy levels and the aggressive refusal to engage in any sort of conversation would be banished to a building far away. My wife would pay the rent.
Things are a bit different with old Butchie, though. At the end of our season he joined up with the South Africa squad. There, sadly, he picked up an injury, and he will be out of action for a while. Thing is, when you see him the bloke is all smiles. Straight back into the team room, joking and laughing, adding vital tips and opinions during the match previews and generally lighting up the room. Had you never seen him play, you might be forgiven for assuming he just wasn't that bothered by missing games. But you have, so you know what the bloke puts into his rugby.
I regard him as probably the only player around with as little regard for his safety as our own Lewis Moody. The guy is heart and soul, every time. So why no signs of depression, I ask jealously? I blame the parents. In Butch they must have installed such a solid sense of perspective that he has become a man who only worries about what he can affect. What's done is done. A lovely way to be, you'll agree.
The person everyone forgets in these situations is the coach. The phone call telling you that one of your best players needs surgery must hit you like a punch in the throat. We are lucky to have Sam Vesty firing but still, assets lying lame must be a killer for the top man. Harry Redknapp had similar calls about Jermain Defoe and Michael Dawson from the England football camp and all the talk seemed to be of who was to blame. Redknapp unhappy – shock horror. I imagine Steve Meehan is unhappy, but this is sport, blokes get hurt and our coaches deal with it well; loads of support and a few smiles along the way.
The key is how you handle it. You can stomp or you can stride, you can grumble or you can grin. But once the damage is done one thing is for sure: negativity will get you roughly nowhere. Here we were thinking that all the likes of Butch James had to teach was the banana kick and car-crash tackle. Instead, as an injured player, he becomes an accidental spiritual guide. Which is lucky, as I've got a knock this week and need all the help I can get.
Saints pull plug but Bath will be back
Friday at Franklin's Gardens was one of those nights. For a decent amount of time the match hung in the balance and, had Olly Barkley hit his usual percentages from the kicking tee, there might have been a point in it at half-time. From the relative comfort of my armchair, I was entirely optimistic at the interval.
During the week we picked out certain names in the Saints side to target but the thing is, when the form team in a competition as tough as the Aviva Premiership hit the sort of strides Saints did, it's not going to be pretty for the other blokes.
Up front the home side were fabulous. Dylan Hartley, so often talked about as a suspect arrowsman and penalty machine, was superb, running on to the ball time and again with murder in his eyes. Phil Dowson, a child of England's forgotten generation (for how long?), was into everything. Yes, life is easier when things are going your way but he looked as fresh and creative after an hour as he did at kick-off. A run-out in a super-tight white jersey cannot be far away.
And it was this platform that allowed the Northampton backline to explode. The hyper- intelligent, explosive Chris Ashton always seems to be in a great place to receive ball, invariably supplied by another England hopeful, scrum-half Lee Dickson.
It was an evening that saw Northampton send out a message of confidence. Watching as a Bath player was tough, but I couldn't help but be impressed by our opponents. After all, if one draws nothing from an experience then it wasn't an experience. We will regroup, review and move on. We need to banish these demons as soon as possible and sport, though so often so brutal, is also charitable by offering a shot at redemption so soon. It's time to lace up our boots and work on a message of our own.
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