Retirement from professional rugby may have come a long time ago for Phil Vickery and Shane Byrne, but that hasn’t prevented them from enduring further physical pain in search of great reward. Over the past week, they have taken part in Sport Relief’s DHL First Nation Home Challenge, with a team from Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales all competing against each other in a range of activities, including rowing from Liverpool to Dublin as well as cycling from York to London.
Catching up with both men yesterday, they remained enthusiastic about how the cause had gone so far, helped by the competitive edge between the groups. “It’s got a bit tetchy at times,” said Vickery. “As you’d expect with a group of people who’ve been in sport at whatever level, in a nice way it gets very competitive, with text messages flying around and so on. I was saying with the other guys in the England camp it’s a bit like being on tour. It’s not just about the physical aspect but the mental side as well. It’s all about keeping momentum going and I’m hoping to be at Twickenham in time on Saturday!”
There were similar sentiments for Shane Byrne, who spoke about motivation coming from the children at the Children’s Hospital in Dublin, who he had visited as a result of his work with the charity Straight Ahead. “It’s the first time that Ireland as a whole has been involved with Sport Relief, which has meant it’s been the biggest logistical challenge ever. I’ve had lot of visits to the Children’s Hospital in Dublin, around Christmas time and other times especially with Straight Ahead.
“The funding just isn’t where it should be right now, so we have to raise money, because they do fantastic work helping children who have serious back problems and sclerosis. When you see the work the Doctors and Nurses do for the terribly sick children it can keep young going on the neverending hills, of which we’ve come across quite a few! Every drop of sweat is for the greater good.”
Looking ahead to the St. Patrick’s Day match at Twickenham this weekend, both stars commented how impressed they had been with England’s rejuvenation after the disaster of the Rugby World Cup. “England have certainly been the most improved side, and they’re going in the right direction now under Lancaster. Saturday’s match will be tough to call, because there is massive momentum behind England after picking up a win in Paris.”
Vickery, who has backed Lancaster’s permanent appointment since even before the Six Nations began, also stated how pleased he was with the progress made in such a short amount of time. “To win away is tough, but in Paris especially so to pick up a win out there is really outstanding. The young nucleus of this side has grown with each game. The front row have been exceptional and it’s been great to see the smiles on their faces because indicated they’re playing with the right attitude.”
“Winning against Ireland on St. Patrick’s Day at home, what a way to finish the Six Nations. I’ve backed Lancaster to coach from the beginning, mainly because talking about that young nucleus, he’s worked with all the new guys, putting him in the perfect position. I appreciate the desire to bring some coaching experience, and Nick Mallett would never do a bad job, but sometimes you look beyond what you’ve already got. With Stuart, Graham Rowntree and Andy Farrell, we have the chance to bring through some great young coaches.” Whatever happens on Saturday, there is not doubt England’s interim coach has left a good impression on both former internationals.
by Ben Coles