I was expecting an arrogant twat of the variety that walks around Isis on a Wednesday night like he owns the place, looking down on everyone around him. My stereotypes were thrown out the window as soon as conversation began with the first XV kicker, Tim McEwen.
Quiet and well-mannered, Tim spoke to me in detail about the Nottingham University Rugby team, their achievements, and hopes for the future.
Last season, through a mix of exciting new players and great camaraderie, the first XV exceeded all expectations by winning the BUSA North Premier League, beating supposedly superior teams with professional academy players, the much hyped Loughborough (Leicester Tigers) and Durham (Newcastle Falcons) to name but two. Seeded top for the main event, the BUSA knockout competition, they suffered a last minute semi final defeat to an excellent Bath side.
After a successful summer tour to Argentina (four wins out of six), and only 3 of the squad moving on, the team appeared to be in excellent shape to win the league again and go that one step further and reach the BUSA final at Twickenham.
The season has started slowly though with injuries hampering the team in an opening day defeat to Newcastle. This was followed up, however, by consecutive wins against Worcester and Durham; in an annual charity match played in front of 4,000 people in aid of ‘Sport in Action’, which put them back in contention to mount a serious challenge this season.
I had always imagined that playing Uni sport would be hard work, but the first XV kicker Tim Mcewen explained to me that its not just about the sport, it’s a ‘lifestyle’. He considers it an ‘honour to represent the uni at the premier BUSA sport. With 5 days a week of training or competing and your two days off expected to be taken up by weights training…it’s a full time commitment!! Having played under 21’s for Harlequins, Tim described the set up as ‘very similar to that of a professional rugby club’. But I wonder is too much pressure being placed on these young men, who ARE at uni to complete a degree? Early in the season Tim himself was finding it difficult to balance his time between applications to a medicine conversion course, the rugby, his social life and his girlfriend.
These players are constantly putting there bodies on the line, the team nutritionist advises them to take on ‘180 grams of protein a day’, double the recommended daily allowance for a 12 ½ stone man. Tim describes the supplement of choice for all of the 1st XV, ‘Whey Protein’, as ‘completely necessary’ as it speeds up recovery times between matches and heavy training sessions. Many of the players have experimented with the controversial ‘Creatine’, too.
Perfectly legal, it helps the body to store water and aids the speedy build up of muscle. BUT a thus far unfinished study has linked it to potentially damaging side-effects such as kidney damage. He believes ‘four or five’ of the current squad currently use it, whilst pretty much every player has tried it at some point. When at Harlequins, he was never told or forced to take anything, but both protein and creatine supplements were easily available and in fact left out in the team common room. Rumours fly around at this and the professional level, of players using illegal performance enhancing steroids. But Tim is confident that despite all the player bravado, none of his team indulges. Importantly, Tim explains that although these supplements can aid performance in terms of power and strength, they will ‘never be a substitute for technical proficiency as the determining factor for selection at this level and in the professional game’.
I personally feel that the pressure put on the players to win means that these muscle gain and proteins supplements are necessary for our lads to compete at the highest level and bring home trophies. Other teams do it, so why shouldn’t we. We also have to remember, with regards to progressing to more serious steroids, that we are dealing with intelligent lads at one of the best uni’s in the country. They are well aware of the risks and that a line exists between competition and the potential for bodily damage.