Rugby:Centre of attention

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However at the annual Moore Stephens’ international charity rugby dinner at L’Horizon Hotel on Wednesday, he was prepared to admit his fondness for a woman who, at some stage in the future, could do what he has done – represent her country.

In his case that has been to play rugby, 41 times, for England at centre.

For Phillips it would be to emulate her mother’s prowess in showjumping by representing the UK in the Olympic Games.

And, although Tindall admits to knowing nothing much about her sport, his fondness for Zara Phillips is obvious when he says: ‘During all of the time I’ve known her, I recognise that she probably knows more about rugby than I do about horses.

‘To date, I’ve been on, I think, two horses – both very slow and probably very old! I do go and watch her compete, but I’m a rugby player, and my injury means that I won’t be back in the England side, probably until the last game of the season.’ As he was speaking, Tindall pushed to one side the two crutches he had used to enter the room.

He is a big man, but surprisingly self-effacing and very protective of his relationship with the Queen’s grand-daughter.

He also considers himself to be very lucky to be playing rugby, both for Bath – until the end of the season when he joins Premiership rivals Gloucester – and England.

‘I was a late developer.

My main sport was athletics when I was younger and when I played rugby it was always at No 8, until I was 14.

Then I was sent for trials for the North, at under-16 level, but didn’t get in although at under-18 level I played for the South-West and was also sent for England trials.

‘I wasn’t picked, but my chance came when one of the England players was on study leave, and I was brought into the team in his place, scored two tries and never looked back.

So at 18 I was offered a contract at Bath and in 1999 was part of the England team which played in the centenary Test, in Australia.

That was my first cap.’ Part of the World Cup winning squad in Sydney just over a year ago, Tindall would have been an automatic choice in the current England team, playing in the Six Nations’ championship, if it hadn’t been for injury.

And it has been a painful injury, too.

‘It is a seven-year-old injury; a broken metatarsal, which I lived with through the World Cup but damaged again when I played against Australia and then did it some more serious damage .



this has been the most depressing year for me, as I’ve played so little rugby.

It’s been a case of four games played, two months out, then five games out, then another four, a really frustrating season.’ As Tindall leaned back in his seat, it was obvious that he was missing a sport which has seen England lose their opening two games in the current Six Nations championship, even though against France, they were palpably the better side.

‘I watched it at home,’ explained Tindall, ‘as I’d only been operated on three days before.

The French played badly but they kicked their points and we didn’t.

‘Ireland look favourites to win the championship, and the England-Ireland game will be a terrific match to watch.

One of England’s problems at the moment is knowing how to win matches.

‘Two years ago and during the World Cup we knew how to win.

At the moment that win factor seems to have gone.

‘The public has to realise that over the next two years we’ll lose games in our run-up to the next World Cup, but it was the same when Clive Woodward took over.

‘It will take time to get it right, but I’m young enough to want to be part of the set-up.

I’ll still be in my 20s in another three years’ time.’ As England vice-captain Tindall’s main job on the field is to look after the threes’ defence.

In a professional era he says that players have largely lost the ‘social side’ of the amateur game and are appreciably fitter, partly because of a coaching regime which leaves nothing to chance.

‘Clive Woodward was never a hands-on coach but he put people into positions where we always knew what we were expected to do and he also made certain his players were looked after.

Andy Robinson is the same.

‘At the moment I think that New Zealand have the best side in the world, although our time will come again.’ As for Jersey’s Kyran Bracken, who played his 50th game for England before retiring last year, Tindall is appreciative of his courage while conscious that, like most scrum-halfs, Bracken was never afraid to speak his mind .



‘At the moment we should play our younger players, including Harry Ellis at scrum-half if we seriously want to win the next World Cup,’ he said.

‘I was very young when I first played for England and, yes, I’ve played centre with Kyran at scrum-half on more than one occasion.

I think he injured his back, badly, in 1999 but carried on playing.

And he’s a typical scrum-half, very lippy.

He and Austin Healey shared that characteristic.

Not to be too unkind, they were – are – both “”big-mouthed””.’ Tindall grinned at the memory before yet another guest at the meal approached, wanting his photograph taken alongside the tall, and very broad-shouldered England player.

Hobbling, but this time ignoring the use of his crutches, the Bath centre duly obliged.

He is a very polite young man, one who would make most parents happy he was dating their daughter, even if, eventually, that means they marry into Royalty.

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