Model pro Peter Stringer relishing his new lease of life
Move to Bath has proved reinvigorating for former Munster scrum-half
Bath’s Peter Stringer scores a try against Leicester Tigers. Ireland’s fourth most capped player of all time is not yet interested in winding down his career. Photo: David Davies/PA
In analysing Irish rugby’s rejuvenation in the noughties, a key figure has to be Peter Stringer.
Whereas the careers of Irish scrumhalves are not noted for their longevity, he played 230 times for Munster and 98 times for Ireland – the next highest in his position are Eoin Reddan (55) and Michael Bradley (40) – and was the rapid-fire link between pack and backs for Munster and Ireland throughout the decade, winning two Heineken Cups and a Grand Slam along the way.
Out of sight and a little out of mind he may be, but Ireland’s fourth most capped player of all time is not remotely interested in winding down his career. At 36 and as fit as ever, Stringer is indeed so physically and mentally rejuvenated by his new career with high-flying Bath that he intends playing on beyond this season.
Last week Stringer started and finished one of the tries of the season to complete Bath’s club record 45-0 rout of Leicester. “I was pretty fresh at that stage,” reasons Stringer modestly, having been on the pitch about 14 minutes as a replacement for Chris Cook.
A model pro who has always looked after himself, he’s never taken a drink; in the last year and a half Stringer has taken his diet and training to what he describes as a new level.
“I thought to myself, ‘I’m in this game for whatever number of years and I’m the kind of person that would be fairly critical of myself and would beat myself up if things don’t go my way, so if I’m in control of this then I’ll have no excuse’. I just wanted to give myself the best opportunity possible to play at this level for as long as I can and do whatever it takes.
“I had my own food allergy or intolerance level tested and discovered I had a slight intolerance to cow’s milk and wheat, so I cut out every bit of bread and pasta, and cut down on dairy. For the last year and a half I haven’t touched any of that, and I just try to eat as much natural and wholesome food as I can, and I feel so much better. My energy levels are so much better, and that in turn makes me feel as if I can do a whole lot more.”
Aside from almost reinventing himself physically, in order to retain his enthusiasm and competitiveness for 17 seasons as a professional rugby player, in which he’s played more than 380 games, he’s done the same mentally. Making the decision to leave Munster after 15 seasons was, he admitted, difficult.
“You do your training all week and then you don’t get an opportunity to play at the weekends, and that becomes frustrating,” he says, after making just six starts in his last two seasons at Munster, prompting loan moves to Saracens, Newcastle and Bath in January 2013, before joining them full-time last season and signing another one-year deal for this season.
“The opportunity arose to come away and you can reinvent yourself in a new environment where nobody knows you, your character or your traits. You can be whoever you want to be, whereas you can become institutionalised when you’ve been in one place for so long.”
“The game is always changing and you’re never the complete player, whether it’s improving things you’re good at or working on things you’re not good at. It’s a changing game every single season.”
Stringer enjoys working with Bath head coach Mike Ford, his one-time defensive coach with Ireland and the man who instigated Stringer’s loan spell with Newcastle two seasons ago.
“He was quite new to Union then but he’s really progressed his ideas in both attack and defence. He’s also been in the English set-up and been in the game a number of years, and he has some really good and fresh ideas. His vision of playing the game, with the players we have, is very exciting.”
Stringer recalls his parting with Munster. “It was a bit empty to be honest because I’d signed up at the start of that season and I was around until Christmas, and I came over to Bath on loan. Signing on for Bath full-time was not planned for, so there was no real final farewell, and that’s something I’m disappointed about.
He was also left stranded two caps shy of his century for Ireland but maintains: “I feel very privileged to have played 98 times for my country and to have been part of great Irish teams. Of course you’d have liked to have played 100, 101, 102 and onwards. That’s the ultimate goal. You just want to play for your country. That’s the pinnacle and it’s a shame that I haven’t been able to continue playing for Ireland, but I’m extremely proud of what I and the team achieved.”
With marriage pending to his long-time girlfriend Debbie O’Leary next summer, all in all, life is good. “No venue or destination planned yet. She’s working extremely hard on that while I’m working extremely hard on scoring tries,” he quips.
Today Stringer plays his 34th game for Bath when the leaders take their 100 per cent record to third-placed Northampton . “I’d played here a number of times over the years and it’s a unique set-up. It’s not an overly big city but the ground is right in the middle of town and there’s a great buzz around the place. It’s a rugby city. They’re very knowledgeable about their rugby. The capacity is up to around 13,000 now and it’s a sell-out each week.”
“We’re living in the middle of town, there’s some good guys in the club I’m very close to now and it’s just a different environment over here. It’s certainly not as intense as back home with regard to your private life and being out socially. It’s a place I’ve come to love, I’ve settled in really well . . .”
And retirement can wait.
“As long as I’m still enjoying the game I’ll keep going for as long as I can. I want to be competitive. I want to be winning major competitions and I feel I still have a lot to offer the environment I’m in right now and as long as that continues I’d love to keep playing regardless of age.”