September 10, 2010

Nick Easter

(info about Nick Easter)

The relentless implication of a rugby player

Thomas Kieller

Photos – Copyright Harlequins Rugby Club

Nick Easter: Rushing forward.

With a solid frame and a good sense of rugby, Nick rushes full speed with the ball. He is ready to push aside the adversary who wants to bring him down. You can be sure that he is always looking for additional yards which can lead sometimes to impressive runs! When he runs up from the centre of the field searching for a hole in the line, the defence must be alert. The Englishman perfected his skills and his comprehension of his sport when he was in South Africa in 2001. The training was useful since he received the honour of player of the year with the London’s Harlequins during his two first years. His determination and continuous effort allowed him to join the national team with whom he performed proudly. The player native of Epsom is obviously in the right place when he wears the white jersey of England. What player of rugby won’t be! A joyful fellow and a hard worker at the same time who does not give his place to any person on the green grass. Considering all this and his desire for victory, one can see that there is an impressive rugby player on the field.

The interview took place on September 21, 2009 at 15:00 at the Roehampton training ground (Richardson Evans Playing Fields) where the Harlequins practice in London, United Kingdom.

Prelude – After a team practice where at least thirty Harlequins players did some drills on the vast green playing fields, Nick, a little bit fatigued by the training, takes 20 minutes to talk about the preparation of a rugby player. We discuss on a wooden bench next to the main facility while a dog is sleeping peacefully on the porch!

First, a step back in time (tough beginning of a season)

Thomas Kieller: In the 2008-2009 season, your team finished second in the Guinness Premiership. After the first three matches played in the 2009-2010 season, the Harlequins lost all their games. What are the differences between these two years’ performance?

Nick Easter: First of all, a season is quite long (22 matches) and we are not still in championship form. To be honest, I think we lost our intensity. We know that competition between the teams is very close in the league. In these three matches, we lost a game with a man down and we could probably have won it. We lost another game just by six points and last week it was close and it was an exciting game. These last weeks, we may have lacked execution and precision during practice and that reflected during the Saturday matches. But like I said a season is long; it will come together.1

Thomas: Could injured players on the team be a factor?

Nick: Oh yeah, we have plenty of injuries on the team but we don’t make excuses because all other squads suffer them at different times of the season.

Relentless implication and intensity on the field

Thomas: In these difficult moments, each player must implicate himself more on the field without holding back. Is it the way of a rugby man to give entirely himself on the field?

Nick: Of course, you have to give your best all the time or you get noticed. If an individual is not all there, the team will suffer. You know, it’s all about preparedness. Some prefer to chill out before a match and others are very intense as they wake up in the morning. It’s an individual preparation. Obviously, one thing among other things is you have to enjoy yourself out there. If you’re not enjoying yourself, you will not perform at the best of your abilities.

Thomas: It is one of your greatest qualities to be intense on the field on defence as well as on offence. Also, is it something that makes you proud to give everything you got?

Nick: Yes, it is an honest feeling when you come off as a player. Either you win, lose or the team draws, you’re emotional. You’re high or low depending on the results. The next couple of days after a game, you are battling the bruises but it’s an honest feeling because you gave it all.

Thomas: We know that rugby is a team game. So, the final result is linked to that?

Nick: Yes, absolutely. You can look at the guy next to you and if he gave his best you give your best in spite of the results.

Training of a rugby player

Thomas: Are you the type of player who likes to train in the gym and, like today, on the field?

Nick: A good training is based on quality exercises not on quantity. Rugby has evolved; I’m a professional for twelve years. We used to train 9 to 5. In fact, it was a 9 to 5 job but it’s not the case anymore. For example, if you are in a gym, you will be there 45 minutes but you will kick hard. So, it will be quality work because rugby is a stop-start game. It’s a power and explosive sport. It’s the same thing on the pitch; you can’t have drowned out sessions and labouring drills. During practice, we should see intensity and also quite a bit under pressure. So, you will be comfortable to do it during a match.

Thomas: Obviously, the contemporary rugby put you in a position to train harder. The guys on the turf are bigger than 20 years ago.

Nick: Oh yeah, the players are getting bigger and the game is also getting faster. Of course, there are some hits which cause injuries. Careers are getting shorter but yes you have to keep with it. One thing one must understand it’s not just about size, it’s also about how smart you are on the field. Sometimes being smaller is more of an advantage than being big as well.

Thomas: By the way, you were speaking about injuries. Did you have a lot of injuries during your career?

Nick (knocks on the wooden bench): I have been very lucky so far. The longest I have been out is five weeks. So, I touch wood. I never had a long term injury which could have sidelined me for two to six months. I have been very lucky. Concerning injuries, I just got some problems with knee ligaments, strains and a disc in my neck.

Thomas: Some players had injuries that can make them hesitate sometimes when they tackle or when they make contact.

Nick: Yes, they say you always play with niggles. In my case, I suppose my hand is a little bit sore, but it’s not something that will make you stop or to make you go out hard. At the start of the season, you probably feel fit but during the season you always carry knocks and you learn to manage it. In any way, it cannot affect the way you play because like I said it’s the whole team which will pay for it. If so, there are other players in your position on the squad who are fit and ready to do the job.

Thomas: As a rugby player, you must always go to the contact or you must go hard for the tackle.

Nick (says without hesitating): Yeah! No holding back. There is no holding back!

Thomas: In the off season, do you train a lot in a gym? And what do you do (weights, cardiorespiratory exercises like running, etc.)?

Nick: When you finish the season, there is a break. We don’t do too much during the holidays. We spend time with the family, we travel and we enjoy ourselves. In the preseason, which is about two and an half months before the season starts, it’s when you will hit the gym hard especially with the weights. In brief, it’s six to eight sessions a week. We will do speed sessions, getting your power back, getting your size, getting your strength because you cannot do it during the season because of all the hacks, pains and knocks you get. During the season, you have to recover from the Saturday or the Wednesday game. You cannot do too much because you want to have something in your legs for the next game. It’s more about maintaining the strength and power in the season. So, during preseason, it’s when you do the bulk, the weight training and all the speed stuff in order to be fit-wise as well as strength-wise.

Thomas: After that, you focus on what?

Nick: A little bit later when the preseason games begin, you have to learn the playing styles of your teammates and what each player is doing for the team. It is a very important aspect.

Thomas: And now, after a loss like the last game, on what aspect do you practice?

Nick: We focus on team and individual things because it’s been hurting us. Also, we train on major issues which have been discussed upstairs by the staff. Obviously, we must not over do it because you can name sixty things to improve after any game, even if you won fifty-nil or lost fifty-nil. Whatever! You have to train on the important things and on the basics. Repetition brings perfection, if you like. That’s what we want to get through.

Nick Easter: The number 8 of the scrum.

National team

Thomas: You made your first selection in 2007 with England’s national team at the age of 28 years. The wait was long, but when you got invited and played on the field for your country, I’m sure you enjoyed it.

Nick (affirms with joy): Yeah massive! I played in front of 80,000 instead of 12,000 spectators. First thing, singing the national anthem was great. I was lucky enough to do it at Twickenham, home of England. And to get the win as well was nice to start. It was a really great day.

Thomas: So, all the training paid off for you?

Nick: Yeah definitely. When you put on that white shirt, it makes you remember when you started for your club on a Saturday. I was playing against the best players. It was a very good moment.

Thomas: What was the turning point for you to reach this higher level?

Nick: The turning point was in 2001 when I went to South Africa and started playing seriously with international and regional players. I really enjoyed it. I said to myself that life is too short… I enjoy playing rugby and I’m quite good at it, so, I should give it a try. Obviously, it was little bit harder than what I’m saying because I had to convince the coach. I did not play with any previous clubs. Eventually and luckily, Harlequins took me up and it’s a great club to be with.

Thomas: Did your confidence grow with your performances in your first year with the Harlequins when you became player of the year for the team in 2004?

Nick: Yes it did because finally I was playing premiership rugby. Unfortunately, we got relegated that season but still I enjoyed my year to be honest because it was my first one. As I said, you play against good international players, week after week, and it is a good way to test yourself. If you worked hard enough and you are dedicated, you can achieve a lot, I suppose. Luckily, I took my chance. With a hunger of motivation, I did it.

Last words

Thomas: To play rugby on the field and to train numerous hours is it something that is in your blood and that you enjoy to be part of it?

Nick: Yes, it is. On another matter, I suppose that I don’t have the self-discipline to be an individual sportsman which I find incredible. For example, I respect the cyclist, the rower or the tennis player who are training all the time. In rugby, it’s great to have the camaraderie with your teammates, the banter and also the possibility to push yourself in the gym. Concerning training, it’s all about quality because rugby is an explosive sport. In rugby, you are not running marathons. The actions are based on short and sharp stops. So, when you train, it has to be done well. And I like that.

Thomas: Could you tell me why a spectator should come see a Harlequins match at the Stoop?

Nick (laughs): At the moment no, because we are not doing any tries in the last games. But usually, we play a great type of rugby. We have some exciting players who had the most tries in the 2008-2009 premiership season. We can have pretty exciting wins. There is a great atmosphere as well in the stadium. If you want to drink beer, there are many bars around. The crowd is really friendly and supportive. There is a good vibe about the place and it’s looking pretty good with the new stand being built.

Thomas: Well done Nick!

Nick: Thanks very much mate, cheers!

1. The Harlequins finished the 2009-2010 season in 8th place improving their ranking by three places in comparison to their ranking at the time of the interview.