The solicitor who thrived in the trenches

FIVE NATIONS' CHAMPIONSHIP: England tackle France without Brian Moore tomorrow. Jim White meets the man they called pit-bull
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The Independent Online
For a decade it was as terrifying a sight as any in international sport: Brian Moore, England's most capped hooker, exploding from the players' tunnel on to the pitch at the start of a Five Nations' Championship game.

Extremities coated in vaseline and swathed in masking tape, he snarled out to do the business for his country, issuing an overt physical statement which said: "This Englishman is dangerous". What routines, you might wonder, did Brian Moore go through to arrive at such a state of wired motivation? Decorating the dressing room with portraits of Churchill, Wellington and Richard the Lion Heart? Spending a day in a management seminar with Will Carling?

"Actually," he says, sitting in his solicitor's suit in his smart city office, not a scrap of vaseline in sight, "I didn't have to work at getting myself motivated. Really it was a case of scaling it down and trying to keep control."

Which makes you wonder: what might have happened if Brian Moore had given vent to his true feelings? This year French hearts will be significantly lifted by the absence of the crazed Moore. His services no longer required by Jack Rowell, the man who more than any epitomised the uncompromising spirit on which Gallic ambitions so often foundered will be watching instead from the press box.

"When they run out at Parc des Princes, it will be difficult," he says. "I'll know what the morning's been like, the coach journey, the descent into the changing rooms, the feeling of expectation as you set out towards the field, then the moment you break up into the stadium. That moment, it's the most thrilling thing."

And for him there was more to it than simply the heady realisation that 60,000 pairs of eyes were focused in his direction. Brian Moore played all his international rugby as if it were the continuation of a millennium of internecine rivalry, of which the battle against the French was the big one.

"It is a very seductive fixture," he says. "Southern Hemisphere teams may be technically more challenging opponents, but what they can't offer compared to any Five Nations match, however hard they try to denigrate it as a competition, is 1,000 years of history. England-France is very special; it isn't too fanciful to say, if you scratch below the surface, there's an ancient rivalry of such intensity it is bound to be an extra factor."

Neither would it be too fanciful to suggest that Moore's 14 colleagues did not similarly regard the game as a chance to settle scores left unresolved from the Battle of Agincourt. But then few of them have analysed quite as thoroughly as he has the connotations of pulling on the lily-white jersey.

"The thing about playing for England is that every opponent you face brings all sorts of baggage with them about wanting to beat you. Take Scotland in 1990" - he says the words through gritted, if patchwork, teeth, remembering his lowest sporting moment, losing that Grand Slam encounter at Murrayfield - "it was the height of the poll tax, we were cast as representatives of a system which the Scots felt had been imposed upon them. It definitely helped their motivation. When you've had to face overt nationalism, it draws a sense of your own identity further forward, simply to counter it."And the sense of his own identity Moore arrived at was passionately English, an attitude which is received with much greater suspicion than its Welsh, Irish or Scots equivalent. Hence he was cast as pit-bull, the brainless yob. An image which was reinforced by a tendency to speak out of turn.

"I wasn't good at keeping quiet," he says. "I always felt a sense of injustice, I wasn't prepared to let it go and if it caused annoyance, c'est la vie." Did he ever regret anything he had said?


Not even his remarks about the Scots after last year's confrontation, when he accused them of spoiling the game, thus provoking the ire of everyone who has ever worn a kilt?

"Not at all. And I'll tell you why," he says. "Because I was right. If you ask most rugby-playing Scots candidly, they will admit I was right. But the flak I took for saying it was incredible. John Beattie, the ex- Scotland flanker, wrote the most personal, vitriolic article about me after that I have ever seen about any sportsman. It wasn't libellous, because sheer abuse is not libel. And this year he rang up asking for an interview. It beggared belief. I sent him a letter saying if he thinks he can write articles like that and then get people to co-operate later, then he's insane."

So Moore's not a man to forget an insult in a hurry, then.

"You use that. Like that Clive Rowlands quote," he says, referring to the former Welsh coach's remarks when Wales were knocked out of the first World Cup about how they'll just go back to the important business of beating England every year. "That really riled. And I think it helped us as a team, on our way up, to have a few scores to settle." But didn't his opponents ever have a score to settle with him? "If you're in the front row," he says, "then you're a target. If you're on the floor, they'll tread on you whoever you are. But I guess it would have brought a bit more satisfaction to most people when they realised it was me down there they'd just done."

Not that Brian Moore has ever really objected to his image. He is cunning enough to use it to his advantage, particularly in his professional life.

"People always assumed I didn't do the work," he says. "They thought I was just on the letterhead, there to get senior partner match tickets. And legal opponents often under-estimate me, thinking I haven't got the brain power. Ironically, in professional life I'm quite guarded. I couldn't be a loose cannon here, it's just too important. I think that was the great thing about my job, because it is so demanding, if you had mental discipline to compartmentalise properly, it was a very good distraction from rugby. The week before we played the All Blacks at Twickenham in 1993, I was working on a multi-million pound professional negligence claim that just had to be finished before the weekend and I sent my last fax at 12.30 the Friday night, went to bed knackered, got up and the game was just there. Some people had two or three days chewing with nerves."

Which, coming from one of the most vociferous proponents of professionalism in rugby, sounds like a good argument for keeping a day job.

"In the days when I played, it was the right thing to do," he says. "The problem now is that teams who play fully professionally are able to devote so much more time to fitness and organisation, that intellectual discipline is neither here nor there. I used to train two hours a day, but it was at the end of a long working day, the cumulative benefits of training were not as great as if I approached the task fresh. You talk to the Wigan rugby league boys, compared to what they did, our regime was a joke. They have quality training, and as importantly, quality resting. If you want to compete, we have to give our players that. Typically the RFU are going about it in a penny-pinching way, which means a lot of our players will be financially tempted to keep on their jobs, thus negating the whole point."

The big question for a man as bright and committed to his profession as Brian Moore is why did he spend 17 years of his life weekly putting his head into the bad place?

"Maybe it's a release for excess testosterone," he says. "For that period in my life I needed a physical outlet. It was driven from within me. Plus in very few walks of life do you get to a situation where you win or lose."

So why did the man who would never shirk a challenge retire so soon after being dropped by England? Particularly as Jack Rowell had made it clear he could fight his way back into the scrum?

"They said that but, candidly, it seemed apparent it was over for me," he says. "It does sound churlish, because I've had a lot of pleasure out of club rugby, but when the big prize of England wasn't there it just didn't interest me anymore. I was, however, absolutely petrified of retiring. I was desperately worried what would replace it in my life. But in the end it came down to this. Thursday night training is sacrosanct for a rugby player, never to be missed. And I found I could only get tickets to go and see the Nutcracker at the Festival Hall on a Thursday. And I said to myself: 'What would you rather be doing, honestly?' And I thought sod it, and went. And that was it. I knew, if I felt that, it was the time to get out. Christ, it makes me sound like a candidate for Pseud's Corner." Brian Moore in Pseud's Corner? That would be a turn-up.