Interview with Steve Boyle

Steve Boyle was a dominant second row forward who represented Gloucester for many years. Steve after years of waiting finally became an international with England in 1983 and that same year became a British and Irish Lion, when he was named in the squad that toured New Zealand.

Steve now owns the Pilgrim Hotel, a Country Hotel based in Herefordshire. Well worth a visit for a spot of luxury..

Here are the questions set to him and his answers.

1/ You played over 300 games for Gloucester, making your debut in 1972. What are your recollections of your debut for Gloucester?

Answer - It was Newport away in 1972, playing against the great Lyn Jones. I was 19 years old and full of youthful enthusiasm and self confidence and couldn't wait to get on the pitch at Rodney Parade. It was a baptism of fire however, and the match was played at an intensity that was far above anything I had been exposed to before. We were thumped by 30 points!

2/ In particular in the 1970 and 1980s Gloucester were a real force in English rugby. Initially, you found it difficult to play too many games at the club with Alan Brinn and John Fidler being the other second rows in Gloucester. Were you disheartened in those early years, and tempted to move elsewhere to try to gain more regular appearances?

Answer - I had only been playing rugby for 2 seasons at Old Richians before I went to Gloucester and was keen to learn from the experienced players. John Fidler, Alan Brinn, Harold Symonds & Jim Jarrett were all outstanding second rows at the club, so progress was slow. I never for one second thought about leaving, even playing for the seconds [United] at Kingsholm was a great experience.

Playing for Gloucester in those days was very different to now. It was open house to pre-season training in those days and virtually anyone could go. I went along with a few mates for the crack and seemed to impress the coaches and was selected for the United against Luctonians away as part of the trial process. I put in a competent performance, converted two tries and kicked a penalty to cement my place at the club.

3/ In 1976 you made your debut playing for Gloucestershire against Japan, and then a month later representing England Under 23s again against Japan. What were your recollections of those games, and did you feel finally you had international honours at touching distance?

Answer - Those games were highly enjoyable, but very fast. It seemed that each step up the ladder was an extra few yards quicker than the one you were used to. By 1976 I was becoming more of a regular in the clubs 1st XV, so County level was something that I aspired to and worked towards and was both relieved and excited to be given the chance.

The England U23 cap was much more of a shock as it came right out of the blue. I'll never forget seeing my parents in the stand at Twickenham and knowing how proud they were that day. RIP mum and dad.

4/ The following year in 1977, you toured Canada with England Under 23s captaining the side in the second international against your Canadian counterparts. What do you remember from that tour and was there any other future internationals on that tour?

Answer - That trip was an absolute blast from start to finish. The rugby was brutal, the training was the most demanding I had come across and the camaraderie was excellent. 

I remember getting on the train to London with my old mucker, Richard Mogg and thinking what the heck am I doing here? I was about to get on a plane to Canada to play rugby in an England jersey and life doesn't get much better than that. I was delighted to be asked to captain the the side and thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience.

The games were tough. We were playing the full Canadian side, not the U23's and the matches were very physical. Throughout the tour fights were common, intimidation levels very high but the guys didn't take a backward step. It was as if just because we were young we could be easily bullied out of games. Thankfully that wasn't the case and we won both International matches comfortably.

The touring party was littered with fabulous people and great players, including two future England captains in John Scott and David Cooke. I made some enduring friendships during that five week trip and I look back on that episode with both pleasure and pride.

5/ Into 1978 and Gloucester won the John Player Cup, beating Leicester in the final at Twickenham. The match was a very physical affair, with some incidents bordering on violence. It was Gloucester’s first ever cup win. What do you recall of the game and the night after?

Answer - This was the first of many great days out with the Gloucester boys. The game encapsulated how we played the game back then. Strive for forward dominance and then unleash some very talented and speedy backs. My enduring memory is giving the pass to Moggy for him to go over for the match winning try. Fabulous memories. The club house was rocking by the time the Marchant's bus got us back to Kingsholm and a pleasant night was had by all. 

6/  Into 1982, a decade after making your debut for Gloucester and now one of the top locks in the country, you were still missing an English full cap. Did you at this point wonder if a cap was ever going to happen? Did you receive any feedback from the England selectors on any reasons or things to improve on?

Answer - You knew that a call up is possible when you played in the Divisional Championship in the South West team against Midlands, London & South and the North. Those four teams contained the players that the national squad was chosen from and it's fingers crossed from then onwards really. Also being involved in England training camps and being chosen for the "B" team tells you that you're close.

I can't recall any feedback directly aimed at improving my game apart from once being told by a selector that I should move to Llanelli!

7/ In 1982 which was a great year for Gloucester, you yourself scored 15 tries in 36 games, a fantastic record for a lock. Indeed, your whole career you had an excellent strike rate for a forward, what was your secret?

Answer - Most of my tries came from very close in and a good proportion came from a tap penalty move that Gloucester perfected around that time from the five yard line. The pack would run at the try line from 15 yards out and the scrum half would tap and pop the ball to one of us [normally me] to take the impact and hopefully cross the line. It had a very high scoring rate but would be near useless today with the Rugby League inspired, shoulder led tackling techniques being used nowadays.

8/ In February 1983 you finally gained a deserved first cap for England against Wales in Cardiff. You lined up with Steve Bainbridge at lock against Richard Moriarty and Robert Norster. In a game that was drawn what is your memory of the whole experience?

Answer - It was a great experience and I remember sitting in the changing room reading a stack of telegrams, notes & letters from well wishers congratulating me on the achievement. I also remember Jack [Steve] Smith telling us that we could either cower in the nice warm changing room or go out and give it a blast and make ourselves proud. These are not quite the words he used mind!.

The match was played at a tremendous pace and we scored a good try from a well rehearsed move amongst the backs and it looked like the game was there for the taking. Gradually Wales pegged us back however, drew level and pressured for the winning score which thankfully never came.

The other locks on the pitch that day were incredibly good players and I take a certain amount of pride that I was in the mix out there with them.

9/ You played three games for England all in the 1983 Five Nations Championship. Your final international being a loss against a good Irish side in Dublin. Are you disappointed you only gained the three caps? Did you feel you deserved more?

Answer - The Five Nations campaign was hugely enjoyable and I was very happy to earn three caps during that Championship. It would have been fabulous to have gained more England honours but it wasn't to be. I have no regrets and don't dwell on what might have been, it's done and I have great memories.

10/ In 1983, you were selected for the British and Irish Lions to tour New Zealand a huge honour and a significant achievement. What do you recall of the tour and the games you played in New Zealand?

Answer - I was attending my late mother's wake in Warrington on the day the Lions touring party was announced and certainly didn't have any expectation of being chosen. Virtually every newspaper had picked their "30" [can you believe only 30 chosen for an 18 match tour?] and I wasn't in a single one of them. I hadn't been into my office for a few days due to funeral arrangements etc and rang in to say I would be in the next day. It was then that I was told the glorious news about Lions selection. A real "worst day - best day" scenario.

Fortunately for me, Willie John [McBride] had watched Ireland B v England B the previous Autumn at a rain sodden and windswept Ravenhill in Belfast and was apparently impressed with my performance under atrocious conditions. He was the manager of the Lions tour and I am told that he himself selected the second rows. Thank you Willie John.

My biggest impression the tour was that every team you played against approached the game with an intensity and fervor that was just astonishing. It was there big chance to shine in front of their fans in and they weren't going to fail for lack of effort. Every piece of physical contact was fiercely contested and all played at an incredible pace. Our training regime reflected that intensity and we were a superbly fit unit.

The first three test matches were tightly contested but we were edged out of each of them. The final test was a  proper drubbing and I can't help thinking it was one game too many for a lot of the squad. I made some enduring friendships on the tour and still keep in touch with a few of the guys to this day and am forever thankful for the opportunity.

11/ Who was the best coach you played under and why?

Answer - I think it must be Mike Davies of England, a former International second row himself. He took time out to discuss various aspects of scrummaging and ruck entry which helped me immensely.

12/ Who was the best player you played with?

Answer - That is a tough choice, I played alongside some great players in '83, both for England and the Lions and was part of a powerful Gloucester team at the time. For his commitment, focus, skill and the way he grew into the game I am going to plump for Mike Teague.

"Iron" Mike joined Gloucester as a gangly youth and it was a pleasure to watch his transformation into one of the best players ever to play the game. It wasn't always a pleasure to train alongside him however, as he never, ever seemed to have had enough. Top guy.

13/ Who was the best player you played against?

Answer - I am going to stick to second rows and I am going to say New Zealand All Blacks star, Gary Whetton. He was a powerful and athletic lock who seemed to have all the skills needed and a few more to spare. A proper players player with a huge heart. 

14/ What was your favourite ground to play at?

Answer - It has to be Kingsholm, especially under midweek lights. The atmosphere was always incredible and running down the steps on to the pitch by The Shed was always real buzz

 15/ Finally, you played with many great rugby players in your outstanding career, can you name your best fifteen by position please?

Steve Boyle XV

15. JPR Williams

14. Roger Baird

13. David Irwin

12. Clive Woodward

11. Rory Underwood

10. John Rutherford

9. Terry Holmes

1. Robin Cowling 

2. Colin Deans

3. Graham Price

4. Steve Bainbridge

5. Gary Whetton

6. John O'Driscoll

8. Mike Teague

7. Fergus Slattery

Thanks again to Steve for his time for the interview. He is looking forward to welcoming you at the Pilgrim Hotel where a warm welcome is available to all.

 


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