The professional game is may sometimes be a target for those who think rugby has forgotten its roots, but it’s not something you would ever aim at two of Tigers’ favourite front-row sons.
When Tom Youngs played his 200th game for the club a couple of weeks ago and then Dan Cole reached 250 last Saturday, the sentiment carried in their words afterward could have come from a any clubhouse the length and breadth of the game.
Neither man is likely to chase the headlines, though their thoughts and opinions are sought as experienced top-level players.
Youngs, a man Cole describes as steeped in Tigers DNA, almost squirmed when he was asked to talk about his 200 games But it was heart-warming to note that the first thing in his thoughts was The Club. Next, it was his team-mates and the coaches he has worked with, and not just at Tigers, but in his early years with Bedford, Nottingham and at school in Norfolk.
“I’ve loved every part of putting the jersey on and I’d like to think I’ve done it justice,” Tom said, going on to talk about those great people he’s worked with.
Cole’s remark that he’s only there “to bend and push” is a perfect example of his dry humour and as ‘old school’ as you could get in a modern-day elite athlete. For the record, you do not hit 250, or nearly 100 Tests, by ‘just’ bending and pushing.
When Dan hit the 250 mark 13-and-a-bit years since his debut in a game at Bath’s Recreation Ground, he echoed Tom in talking about “memories and mates” he’d made in the game.
He didn’t work his way through the highlights of the 250 games, the titles and the finals, the 95 caps in the England front row or the two Lions tours. Instead, he stripped it back to fundamental enjoyment of the game, of representing your team and that camaraderie of the game you learn from your first outing at junior level.
No one who saw Tom’s rise from a Championship centre to Lions hooker will be in any doubt of how much dedication it took on his part; no one can doubt the shift Cole continues to do in the key role of tighthead prop.
But both of them also reflect exactly what we all want to see in rugby, at whatever level. Their comments hit the nail squarely on the head about what we miss most as fans when we’re not inside the stadium on matchday and all of the kindred spirits in clubs at every level of the game.