FOR THE LOVE OF THE GAME – AN INTERVIEW WITH BLAIR COWAN
In the modern era of professional rugby, there are many who lament the loss of some of the old, traditional, amateur values. Last week I had the privilege of interviewing Blair Cowan, and one of the first things he said to me has stuck with me all week. “I play rugby to play rugby” was the phrase he used, and as he said it, it was clear to me that here is a man who simply loves playing the game, and I mean really loves it, like you do as a kid, when you have no idea about getting paid to play, and it’s solely about the game, and the enjoyment of it.
To give the comment some context, my opening question had been whether he feels under any more pressure or weight of expectation as result of his fantastic season last time out.
“Not really, I mean rugby’s something I love, it’s always nice to get the perks, the awards, but I play rugby to play rugby. I’ve just got to go through the same process each week leading to the game and that will get the same mindset for the game. (The pressure) is something you thrive on to be honest.”
He went on to say that he didn’t want to be seen as a one game wonder, and that is a real driving factor for him to maintain his high standards. I think it’s fair to say that there is no chance of that, given the consistency that he showed last season, but talking to him it’s easy to understand how he has kept his standards high, as there is no ego evident, and he is calmness personified.
I move on to talking numbers, as his top performances were in the 7 jersey last season, but he’s also worn 8, and this season is playing at 6. I ask where he sees himself as being best suited, and his answer is typically modest.
“I’ve changed down the years, but in my mind now I am a 7, but that’s the extra element I bring with my game, I can offer the club versatility being able to cover all those positions.”
“I’m happy to cover 8 if they need me to, but I am more in the 7 mould, I love defensive breakdowns and getting my hands on the ball.”
He confirms that he and Trev are playing more left/right at the moment than blind and openside. He talks in glowing terms about Trev, saying that he’s mobile and good over the ball like a 7, but is also destructive ball in hand, and that when Trev’s doing the carrying, he’s happy to be hitting the rucks and doing the dirty work for his partner.
Further international honours are definitely in his sights, and you can hear the pride in his voice when he talks about his appearances for Scotland in the summer. As you would expect, he’s not getting away though, and knows that he has to keep performing for Irish to keep putting his own hand up and forcing the selectors hands. He is clearly in Scotland’s thoughts though, as they’re in contact and have given him a “work on” to improve his game.
“I’ll got away and target those things and perform well for London Irish, and hopefully I’ll be what they want me to be for the autumn tests.”
We touch on the defeat to Harlequins, and gives credit to Quins whilst recognising that the team were not good enough in the first half. Ball retention, defensive lapses and not being smart enough were issues in the first half, but were rapidly improved in the second.
“If you’re not going to break gain line every time, it’s a matter of just holding on to it, and that’s what we set out to do (in the second half) and we achieved that.”
As a London Irish fan it’s encouraging to hear that the solution is keeping the ball, rather than kicking down into the opposition corners. Blair also points out that despite the horrendous first half, we only lost by 5 points, so there are positives to take from the game, the scrum performance, and a growing maturity being two of them.
Moving on to Newcastle this week he says that he feels they aren’t getting enough credit, and were harshly done by a couple of times at Leicester in round one.
“It is a game we really want to target though, an away win will do wonders for our confidence and for how we’re perceived by the rest of the Premiership.”
The preparation has been good and the team know what areas need to be targeted. Lessons have been learned from round one, and harsh truths were told in the team meetings afterwards. It’s now about the positives though, and the team are working hard to make sure things go well this time out. The boys are going up there confident, but know that it’s going to be a battle and the win will need to be earned.
If it gets tough up there in the frozen north east, I ask who the guys are that will drag the team through. The first name thrown up by Blair is David Paice;-
“David Paice without a doubt is one of them, you see it every week, he’s one of the hardest men I’ve played with. Skivs definitely, but hen you’ve got Shane-o. He’s just calm and collected, even though he doesn’t look like it sometimes when he’s flying in to some big tackles.”
He mentions Tomas O’Leary being great to see games out off the bench, and Nic Rouse leading by example on the pitch. It’s clearly a team effort though and everyone is expected to put their hand up throughout the 80 minutes.
There is a real determination to improve on last years performance, and improve generally as a club. I sense that there is a real work ethic running through the squad now, and although he won’t say it, it’s players like Blair who do their talking through their actions on the pitch, who are the forefront and leading that. Physically, everyone is ready, but it’s the shift in mentally that will move the team on, and Blair is definite the shift in that regard has been massive already.
“We’re only going to get anywhere if we play as a team. We’ve got no rock star individuals, we’ve got to do everything as a team.”
Our time is up, primarily as I’m never quite sure how long I should spend asking questions to the players, as I am sure they have plenty of other things to be doing. I wish Blair well for the weekend head outside. It’s been my second visit to one of the clubs media sessions, and I am grateful for them allowing us at http://www.rugbyunited.info/ the access to the players. What stands out from my visits and the four players that I’ve spoken to, is that they are at London Irish because they want to be, and there is a genuine desire from them to succeed at the club. Hopefully the first significant step towards that success will be this week with a win at Kingston Park. Good luck to the boys and tanks again to Blair Cowan for your time.
COME ON YOU IRISH!!!