Time to put the record straight
August 3, 2011
Former Wales international Phil Bennett liked "one beer" on the night before a game to ensure a good night's sleep © Getty Images
First I read a retrospective from Dean Richards that claims the England squad blew the whole of the RFU budget on a glorious binge in the first few days of the 1987 World Cup.
That is quickly followed by a young journo claiming Mike Tindall's preparations for this year's pre-World Cup training camp were a 'throwback to the amateur days when players thought nothing of sinking a bevy of pints the night before a big game.'
Sorry if I come across as a bit touchy but I think it is time somebody put the record straight. It seems to be fashionable amongst those who straddled the amateur and professional eras to denigrate everything that went on before 1995. I have covered every World Cup and England, whilst a poor team in 1987, were never as disorganised and dilettante as Deano would like us to believe.
For the record, I never had a drink on the night before a 'big match' and neither did anybody in the Welsh team in the late 60s and early 70s unless they were doing it secretly in their rooms after curfew. We would go to the cinema as a group, return to sandwiches and a hot drink and then go to bed - never later than 11pm.
The only exception I remember was Phil Bennett. He always wanted one beer because he claimed it guaranteed him a good night's sleep. There were times, though, when you just could not win.
When we went to Paris we always visited the Folies or the Casino de Paris. In the early years of my international career it was on the Thursday night and we were even allowed to go backstage, meet 'les girls' and pose for a few photos with them. The age of innocence did not last long - it moved to Friday (nobody could understand French films) but we were on the coach as soon as the curtain came down and it was back to bed.
By 1973, my fourth visit to Paris, I was bored with burlesque and asked for permission to leave at the interval and walk back to the hotel. Mervyn Davies decided to do the same. The only problem was that our return route took us through Montmartre which was awash with Welsh fans.
We lost the following day and a week later I was accosted in Wales by an irate Welsh fan who berated me for being out in Montmartre the night before playing France - 'and don't try to deny it because my mate Dai saw you and he never lies.' It was true but it was 9.00pm and I was in bed by 10.00.
We were much more 'professional' than people now want to believe. I'd like to think I was at the cutting edge when it came to diet, for example. Having been to Loughborough I understood the theory of carbohydrate loading and practised it as best I could around match-days.
Not everybody was convinced. I remember sitting next to Delme Thomas, the Llanelli second-row for brunch one Saturday morning. I ordered brown toast and honey (no butter) with some orange juice; he ordered a fillet steak with chips and two eggs along with a pint of milk.
My Loughborough training took over and I took him to task, telling him it would sit on his stomach and he wouldn't even have digested it by kick-off. 'Are you complaining about the way I play?' countered Delme and there was no answer to that so I apologised and backed off.
But it obviously stuck in his mind and later he asked me to explain. I talked him through the conversion of carbs to energy and he nodded sagely before replying. 'But what you don't understand, John boy, is that I don't get the chance to eat steak very often down in Carmarthen and I'm certainly not going to turn down the chance of a free one!' There was absolutely no answer to that.
Contrary to popular myth we actually did not drink very much - except on Saturday nights (and the London Welsh contingent who had to be in Wales for national squad training by 10.00am Sunday even had to cut back on that) - and I, for one, trained every day bar Friday.
Being a schoolteacher for the first part of my career I used the gym for weight training sessions twice a week and always did a speed session on Wednesdays. Later, through John Dawes's influence, London Welsh acquired one of the very first multi-gym machines. We thought we were pretty cutting edge. Of course it was pretty blunt by today's standards but it touches a nerve when amateur rugby is dismissed as all beer and bad behaviour.
Well before the game became professional Will Carling had a personal trainer and all I remember is lunches of skinless chicken, salad and pasta washed down with water as we discussed his column for the Mail on Sunday.
Perhaps 1995 was a watershed in the evolution of the game (it might even have been a beer-shed for some) but at the top level we did take our rugby seriously in the amateur era - honest.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
John Taylor is a former Wales and British & Irish Lions international and currently the managing director of London Welsh
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