It doesn't matter whether it's in the boxing ring or on the rugby pitch, size truly matters
FROM THE BLINDSIDE:Ireland were left punch drunk as, like me, South Africa used their physicality to grind out a result
Around three months ago, I was approached by some people in England who were organising a testimonial event for Mark Cueto and Tom Shanklin. Part of the night they were planning was a series of boxing matches between former rugby players and they were wondering would I fancy getting involved. They’d provide a trainer for me at Raw Gym in Dublin, I’d get myself in shape and learn some basic skills and then on the night, I’d get into the ring for three rounds of boxing.
Ever since I finished up playing rugby, I’ve been trying to keep in some bit of shape but when you don’t have a target in mind, the whole thing can be very unsatisfying. You’re training away just for the sake of it. So almost straight away I said yes on the basis that this might be something interesting to aim at. The fact that it was going to be a boxing match was nearly irrelevant.
It didn’t stay that way for long. A few sessions in, I realised that I hadn’t actually felt pain for a long time. The bits and pieces of training I had been doing just to keep in shape had never got to the point where I was pushing myself beyond my limit. That’s the little reward you give yourself when you retire. You do a bit here and a bit there and you congratulate yourself for keeping at it even when you don’t have to. But when you get to the really hard bit, the bit you know is going to hurt like hell, retirement means you can just ease back and leave it at that for the day. You’re letting nobody down.
But this was different. After two sessions with my trainer in the gym in Dublin, I was in agony. He was beating medicine balls off my chest, fighting through a load of core work and foot work. I was wondering what the hell I’d gotten myself into – and this was before I’d even thought about throwing or taking a punch. But gradually, I loved feeling the competitive edge again and I pushed myself into enjoying the experience.
That was important to me. Much as I liked the idea of working hard again, I didn’t want to go mad doing it. I didn’t want to be getting frustrated and annoyed at myself and above all, I didn’t want to do anything stupid when the fight itself came around. I didn’t want the red mist to descend or to drive myself cuckoo over it. I didn’t want to be hyped up over a boxing match that was supposed to be a bit of fun. I didn’t want to be getting hyper-aggressive or to be showing my mad side too much.
After a couple of opponents dropped out, I was left with Sean Long, a rugby league player and a good friend of mine. When it looked like I’d have no opponent, he rang and said he’d fight me. Sean’s only 85kg so I’d have a sizeable weight and reach advantage over him but he’s still playing away and he’s in great shape, chiselled, fit and very fast. Even though he reckoned his speed would have me in trouble, I felt a lot happier going in against him. It would be a bit of craic and there’d be no chance of me losing control.