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The big interview: Mike Tindall

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By Tom Masters, Sportsbeat

HE may be a World Cup winner, but Mike Tindall is still strapping on his boots aged 43 and playing amateur rugby in Gloucestershire, and now the England legend is backing an England Rugby campaign to get more players “Back in the Game.”

With Covid effectively halting grassroots 15-a-side rugby for the best part of 18 months, while many areas of the game have returned to normal research has revealed social players in the men’s game have not returned at the same level as pre the pandemic. As with many grassroots sports, players have developed other commitments and got out of the habit of playing for their local sides each weekend.

Speaking ahead of his midweek training session with Minchinhampton RFC, where he sometimes runs out for the 2nd and 3rd XVs, Tindall said: “I think it’s important that we try to get more people back at clubs. It’s such a great game and the values are so good.  You can fall into not playing after Covid, because you’ve had a break and it’s then hard to re-engage. I’d say just get back out there, go and see your mates, build up gradually and throw the ball around.”

Research commissioned by The National Lottery earlier this season, showed that being part of a rugby club has significant mental health and social benefits.  75% of club rugby players said that not being able to properly participate in club rugby had a negative effect on their state of mind, while 58% said what they missed most when not playing regularly was the team environment and camaraderie.  

Tindall is better placed than most to explain the attraction of being part of a rugby team, saying, “The social aspect of rugby is why we play,” he said, “It’s why we get involved in our local club, it’s the end of season tours, the midweek curries, the post-training beers, that is what rugby is, it drives communities.  

“It can be the social hub, take Minchinhampton here, the clubhouse is built by the players, it’s got infectious people who run it, whether that be from the under-6’s, to the colts, to the first team or the Rams (second XV), it takes those loyalties from people to drive it and it becomes a mini community which is great.  

“A lot of the time it’s someone’s support network. You might need a wall putting up – someone in your club will be able to do it, you might need your plumbing done – someone will be able to do that as well. That sense of community is why we all get involved.

“If you’ve had a bad week, there are people you can unload on and exercise also de-stresses.  You can chat to thirty of your best mates over a beer, there will be some laughs and they’ll make you feel better about it. It’s having that shoulder to rely on, but also all the health benefits. You always get the guy who thinks he’s skilful and then throws the ball into touch, so you get humour too.”

Tindall had a glittering professional career, first signing for Bath at the age of just 18, before going on to win 75 England caps, which included six of the seven matches in England’s 2003 Rugby World Cup run, where he started in the final against Australia.  

But upon retiring from international rugby in 2011 and finishing off his 290-game club career at Gloucester in 2014, Tindall did not hang his boots up, but instead joined Minchinhampton, where he still plays to this day.

“I was very lucky to play professional rugby for 17 years, where you go to work with 35 of your best mates every day,” said the 43-year-old, who explained you don’t have to rush back into 15-a-side matches, encouraging people to come down for training and skills, play touch or X-Rugby for fitness to build up gradually and enjoy catching up with mates in clubhouse after.

“Once you leave that, it’s very hard to stay on top of all of your friendships, so it’s nice to be able to come into the same environment that you had. The things you miss when you retire are all the things that you can get from your local club. Rugby boys are still rugby boys, it’s the same level of chat, the same jokes played, you only have to wander around the clubhouse to see there’s a pulpit in there, if you go into the referee’s changing room there’s an eye test on the wall, the mirror in the changing room is for backs only.”

Tindall also highlights the family ethos at local rugby clubs and the sport being an activity the whole family can enjoy. “The things I love about playing for Minch are the people, I just think it’s a fantastic club, my daughter Mia comes down here on a Sunday and gets involved, there will be 300/400 kids involved on a Sunday. It’s sort of the pillar of the community.”

The World Cup winner has this message for players who aren’t playing as regularly as they used to: “I’d say, just get back on the pitch, back in your club house and back in your community. The love of the game will come back because of the people you’re spending time with, and you’ll be back playing before you know it.”

To find your nearest rugby club and ‘Get Back In The Game’ visit findrugby.com

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