Phil Vickery talks to bloodandmud.com about clothing, apologetic Lions refs and Shaun Edwards’ unconventional welcomes
We caught up with England legend Phil Vickery – one of the most friendly, personable and softly-spoken giants I have ever met – at the launch of the new range for his clothing brand Raging Bull and their new website ragingbull.co.uk.
You are in the twilight of your career now, but given your history with injuries, did you ever think you would last this long?
It was tough for a while, but I think the move to Wasps has really helped me as it was the right thing at the right time. Even I thought it was a risk for the club, but they didn't and I certainly hope to stay here until the end, which I think is further away now with the two props rule meaning you'll need more cover on the bench.
Shaun Edwards is seen as a very special coach, working with him what is it that makes him that way?
He's unique. For example, on my first day at Wasps I got out of the car in the car park and he was getting out of his, he came over and there were no pleasantries he just said, "Hello. We'll get you back to being the best in the world." Then he walked off! He's probably not everyone's cup of tea at times, but I respect him and get on with him.
And how is it working for your old mate Trevor Woodman (new forwards coach at Wasps)?
It's probably more difficult for me than him. He's been in Oz for four years learning his trade so for him it's another job.
I have to ask, what happened in the first Lions Test?
The ref [Bryce Lawrence] didn't help me, but I didn't help me either if I'm honest. I actually saw the ref the week after and had a chat with him as I make a point of making the first move in situations like that to take the higher ground and make sure that everything is OK. He took a bit of a nervous step back when I approached him, but then we talked and he told me that he had watched the tape and said he might have got some things wrong. I thought, ‘well it’s a bit fucking late now!’” But it was one of the lowest points of my career, and afterwards having to be 24th man for the second test, it's really hard to stay positive and interested when you have very little chance of playing.
Is it true there was a massive piss-up after the second test?
Just because you are a pro doesn't mean you have to starve people, it's about balance and sometimes something like that is just what you need. Geech understands this and that what makes him such a top bloke and coach, also so did Gerald (Davies, tour manager). Geech has a different approach to Graham Henry (2001 Lions coach), but I get on well with Graham as well, he's a very good bloke.
At least you got to make amends in the third test..
Yeah, but that was sad in a way as I was only there because of what happened to Adam (Jones) and Gethin (Jenkins). I was in the physio room when they came off and Adam was on one bench screaming as two blokes tried to get his arm back in the socket and Gethin had a facial fracture that was so bad he looked like John Merrick. As a fellow front-row – and with my injuries – you understand what that's like.
I've seen a preview of the Lions video for this year and you look like you are crying on the bench at one point.
Hmm. Yeah. I can't honestly remember, but I may have been; you go through so much with these guys on tour it's like you've been together years so emotions can run high.
You went on the infamous "Tour From Hell" in 1998, what was it like?
Wasn't great! But, I think it was also the turning point of English rugby. Clive (Woodward) never did that again, he made sure that all tours were properly run after that, with most of the top players available. Also, when I became England captain I talked to Matt Dawson, who captained that tour, I he had learned a lot which he passed on to me.
What was your greatest achievement as England captain?
Surviving the 2007 World Cup press conferences! Seriously though, it was beating France and knocking them out in their own back yard in the semi-final that year.
How are England doing at the minute do you think?
England are moving in the right direction now, the coaches are settled now which helps. I remember after the last World Cup I was asked what England needed and I said "stability" then four weeks later they sacked Brian Ashton. But we have that stability now.
Looking at your company Raging Bull, this is for the long-term. I take it you didn't fancy going back to the farm after retirement?
Not with milk prices the way they are at the minute! Farming is a tough business, especially right now, but my mum, dad and brother are still at it. Raging Bull is something I'm very proud of, it's not easy to build up a new brand from scratch and take it out there and make it work, but myself and my business partner and his family have worked hard and it's a success.
Do you make those tight shirts?
Yes, but I must say that as a front-row I am yet to be shown evidence or convinced that the pro-fit shirts give you any benefit whatsoever. A back who can step and jink I understand as it prevents big blokes like me tackling them by getting one finger on their shirt, but the last game I played I literally could not grip the other prop. In the end I was saying to the ref, "Look, you try and grip my shirt and see if you can do it."
You didn't fancy coaching then?
I want to stay involved with the game and that may mean coaching or not, it very much depends what opportunities come up. There are other things in the game, it's not just coaching.
Were you surpised about Jason Robinson taking the head coach job at Sale?
I was actually. I saw him recently and was ribbing him a bit as I know Robbo well as even though he was the smallest man on the team he liked to hang around with us big fellas most of the time. The opportunity came up and he took it, I can certainly see why.