Punches, Cuddles and Clermont
October 31, 2012
Clermont Auvergne's Jamie Cudmore watches on against a backdrop of their fanatical supporters © Getty Images
"If you can't take a punch, you should play table tennis" - Pierre Berbizier
Clermont Auvergne's resident Canuck Jamie Cudmore can lay claim to that phrase more than most. He sat out an incredible 110 days of the 2010-11 season due to suspension and he has collected 24 yellow cards and three reds for Clermont. On the face of it, he seems a liability. But the Top 14 giants continue to pick him week in week out.
Their recent destruction of the Exeter Chiefs exposed one of England's best top flight teams to a performance that exhibited power, passion and clinical finishing. Cudmore was at the forefront of everything they did well that day and has turned into one of Les Jaunards indispensable figures over the past few years.
The 34-year-old is a mainstay in the Top 14 team's XV and regardless of the myriad of stars present at the Parc des Sports Marcel Michelin, Cudmore - although he does not have the same galactico billing as your Sitiveni Sivivatu or Wesley Fofana - continues to shine as one of their standout players.
On the field his appearance is one of physical prowess and a short fuse. Off the field, he is a family man who is living a life that is a far cry from his turbulent upbringing in Canada. He spent a year in a juvenile detention centre and turned to rugby to provide him an outlet "for my rambunctiousness". Since then he has played in New Zealand, Wales and France - a pathway he describes as a "long crazy ride".
After his nomadic trip around various rugby strongholds, he has settled at Clermont. He is loved both on and off the field and the perfect example of this occurred during the interview. Midway through he had to pause as there were "people coming into my house and I have absolutely no idea who they are". As it transpired, they were folk who journeyed over to chez Cudmore from the other side of the village to wish him well ahead of the weekend's match. It seems to happen on a regular basis to him and it's something he describes as "pretty cool"; a welcoming host is a sharp contrast to the imposing figure he cuts on the field.
"Coming from Canada and watching a lot of ice hockey and football the physicality has always been something that I've tried to bring into my game," Cudmore told ESPNscrum. "From the beginning that's all we had as we weren't playing champagne rugby back on the west coast of Canada in the third division that's for sure. I've definitely tried to evolve my game so there's a bit of physicality and also some rugby sense alongside it."
And his evolution seems to have run alongside the development of the game. Your archetypal second-row has changed enormously from the days of Bill Beaumont or even Martin Johnson. The old days of the enforcer seem to be on the way out.
They used to be the figure that would 'take one for the team' and would never be far from a ruck or a slight differing of opinion on the field. While they fell foul of the citing commissioner or the referee's notebook, the crowd loved them and the same can be said for Cudmore and while he claims that there are still 'enforcers' in the game, their power is executed in different ways.
"I'm not sure if it's dying a breed but that sort of role - not necessarily as an enforcer - has evolved like rugby has. Gone are the days where you just go for the nine or the ten or get one of the big second-rows or back-rows to go and whack someone. Those days are pretty much gone with cameras everywhere and referees and touch judges fully implicated in the running of the game. But it has evolved - big tackles and running the ball up hard and playing at great speed is where the game has moved to. It's all moved on from the dark manoeuvres at the bottom of the rucks."
And while Cudmore has experienced the development in second-row play, he has also seen a change in the attitude of the game's future generation. He never takes anything he has achieved for granted and throughout our chat he constantly uses phrases such as "I have to pinch myself sometimes" and "I realise how fortunate I am" but everything Cudmore has now is due to hard work and not luck. He has worked hard to be in the position he is and this is something that he feels is lacking in the current game.
"That's one of the sad things. I've definitely noticed a change in the younger guys coming through. They've never experienced anything other than rugby. If they haven't been taught the value of the game then you can almost see some bad trends coming through. They start whining when it's cold out and when things start to get bad. They don't realise how bloody lucky they are.
"At most they are going to be out on the field for three hours at most maybe and it might be a bit cold but then you get to have a hot shower. I'd be out there for eight, ten, twelve hours a day if I could like any other person would be if they're opening. I hope that tendency gets stamped out real quick."
He is never one to shirk a challenge © Getty Images
But it seems that such a trend is not prevalent in Clermont's current crop of youngsters who have graduated to the first-team. Aged just 24, Fofana is tearing up the Top 14 and has made an impact on the international scene. But the next generation of Clermont players will look back at the class of 2010 as the team that set the benchmark. Only Heineken Cup glory could rival the celebrations that occurred in Montferrand when Clermont marked their 100th year anniversary lifting the Bouclier de Brennus to end 74 years of hurt. Cudmore said it "felt as if Clermont was going to explode, it was a massive sense of relief and joy".
When he started out his rugby career in the Canadian third division playing in Squamish on the west coast of Canada, the thought of lifting France's biggest prize in the Stade de France must have seemed like a pipedream. But it is one that he has realised - he opted for the tough option rather than sticking put. "If I stayed at home I'd probably be snowboarding at the weekend and chopping down trees during the week - not that that's a bad thing but what I experience now is certainly much better."
Regardless of his brushes with the rugby law, you cannot begrudge anything that Cudmore has achieved. He has stayed true to his roots and this is why we see him pushing the game to its' physical limits. It is that mindset that has kept him in the Clermont team over the past few years - a quality that cannot be bottled.
He is the personification of the glass half-full/ half-empty argument. Optimists will look back on his impressive career and remember him as someone who won a Top 14 title, played the game to its fullness and enjoyed every step of the way. Pessimists will look at his extensive disciplinary record but Cudmore will hold close to him the memories of the former.
"I'm definitely no angel that's for sure. Everything I've done I've assumed the responsibility and I'm never going to point any fingers except at myself. There's always been that talk of ill-discipline but I've played in a lot of big games and I've won a championship here in France and I prefer to look back at those types of highlights."
© ESPN EMEA Ltd
Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.
Ask John answers questions on the Leopards' tour to Italy in 1974, brotherly Test sides, Pat McGrath, England's games against the Barbarians and Jacques Brunel
"We were only five metres away in the last Test of getting that try and with Jonny's inevitable conversion, we'd have won it." Tom Hamilton talks to Lions fullback Matt Perry
Toulon's Heineken Cup final victory over Clermont Auvergne may have ended a long title drought for the Top 14 club but two of their players are no strangers to success