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House of Rugby

29th May 2019

Rugby’s red bib and why no player in his right mind wants to wear it

Patrick McCarry

Red bib

Getting that red bib can only mean one thing – a world of pain

Ahead of Ireland’s 2011 World Cup victory over Australia, Shane Jennings famously imitated Wallabies turnover machine David Pocock to help his side prepare for all-out war at the breakdown.

Seven years ago, as Leinster steeled themselves for a Champions Cup semi-final with Scarlets, an academy back-row was handed a blue scrum-cap and instructed to mimic Tadhg Beirne anytime a ruck formed in training. Former Leinster flanker Kevin McLaughlin declared:

“They had a guy – I think Jordi Murphy said it in the press after the game – in a blue scrum-cap all week. One of the academy guys had the absolute shit kicked out of him all week. Any time they saw the blue lid, they absolutely smashed him.”

On the latest episode of House of Rugby, host Alex Payne was joined by James Haskell and his former Wasps teammate Dan Leo. The trio discussed Pacific Islands rugby, World League proposals and life for Samoan, Tongan and Fijian lads playing rugby in all corners of the world.

There was some talk about Leo and Haskell’s time together at Wasps, too, and it is little wonder that both me look back on their time their so fondly.

Leo, capped 39 times for Samoa, recalled how he was often asked to replicate Leicester Tigers’ contingent of Pacific Islanders during a period when both sides seemed to be scrapping for the league title every season.

“Leicester had loads of Islanders and we only had myself and Trevor Leota. So Shaun Edwards would dress me up in the Leicester kit and say, ‘Oh Dan is Alesana Tuilagi’, and Hask and the boys would just smash me.”

“We’ve all done it,” says Haskell. “When you’re bin juice for you’re club, you’re often anybody. The defensive coaches will always dress you up as someone and say, ‘Right, you’re… ‘.”

Asked who the best players were that he was asked to rep in training drills, Haskell replied, “I’ve been Jamie Heaslip, I’ve been Sean O’Brien.”

“There’s always that player in the bin juice that is asked to wear the red bib and get hit all the time. It is often a back who is super talented, with great foot-work, or a Number 7. There was a guy at Wasps, Matt Everard, who always had to be a Number 7 who’d compete hard for the ball.

“So, what would happen at a normal training session is that it’d be shoulders on except for the breakdown. That would be live so you’d get one guy that would literally be canon-fodder. I remember when Matt Kvesic was involved around the England squad, he would be the opposition so he’d play your Josh van der Flier, Sean O’Brien or your Richie McCaw, and he would be getting smoked all the time.

“I remember Kyle Sinckler dislocated somebody’s shoulder. Jack Clifford, when he was involved with England, he’d always be asked to be someone. When you’d play France, you’d always earmark a couple of players and say, ‘Right, if he goes in over the ball, you clear him out!’

“Typical Sinks, he ran in at 700 miles an hour and just dislocated his shoulder.

“And Eddie (Jones) was like, ‘Hask, you’re not competing for the ball much at training, mate’. And I’d say that’s because you’ve got Sinks and (Ellis) Genge, who are completely insane. I’d rather not, if you don’t mind. I’ll wait for a game.”

As rugby apprenticeships go, getting handed that red-bib in training is as tough as it gets.

Don the bib, take your licks and try to get out in one piece.

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Episode 33 sees Alex Payne joined by Dan Leo and James Haskell to discuss slow release carbs, Pacific Island rugby issues and getting smashed in training.