Another Friday as a lady who lunches saw me heading to the Saracens Training ground; this time to interview one David Strettle. I arrived a little early and found myself in the surreal position of chatting to David as his team mates were eating lunch; followed by a game of table tennis. I never expected to see Marcelo Bosch playing an alternative game!
As a big rugby league fan I was interested to find out how a man who came from Thelwall; Warrington came to be a top class union man! David did indeed start his rugby days playing the ‘other’ code at Grappenhall Griffins where his league playing uncles were coaches. He was 5 when he started and was playing with the Under 10’s fairly quickly.
He played league at Junior School when a new teacher Mr Cameron came to the school during his younger days he played either hooker or full back – but as he said at that age there wasn’t too much in the way of form on the pitch. Bees and Honeypots come to mind.
David’s choice of secondary school was to determine his choice of sport and as things panned out his career. He attended Lymm High School; the only school in the area to play rugby union. As a rule they played against private schools and were known in the area as Grange Hill.
Another teacher was to be a huge influence on David; Mr Roger Atherton was in charge of rugby matters and explained to David and a rival scrum half Eddie Owen that one of them needed to play fly half. They had to kick the ball closest to a tree; David won and so began a 5 year school career playing at no 10.
During this time however football was the key sport in his life; David was on the books at Manchester City – the wrong colour club as far as the team he supports. He played on the right wing and was going well but starting to lose interest in the game. The club pushed for more commitment from the 13 year old; his Dad took the decision for him not wanting him to have to commit to one game at such a young age.
In addition to the football David also played basketball nationally; in common with many top sportsmen he played most sports he could get access to! He was very small at school and was known as ‘Little Strett’ , hence his place at Number 9.
Between 15 and 16 rugby started to overtake the other sports and things became more serious. He progressed to playing for Cheshire then on to North England and moved onto the wing. He played in France for North England to see who would play for England.
He was up against Marcel Garvey and James Simpson Daniel; a man he clearly has high regard for; England wasn’t to be at that time. Rather than go to university at 18 David took a gap year; working for one of his uncles and playing his rugby at Lymm Rugby Club. He played for Cheshire U20’s and at senior level. Reaching the final of the men’s competition.
The following year he headed to Sheffield Hallam Uni to do a Sports Science course. In his words ‘Far enough to get away from your parents but close enough to take your washing home!’
He spent his uni years with several Warrington friends who clearly felt the same!
The choice of educational establishment was again to play a big part in David’s future as he joined Rotherham RUFC.a club with a long and successful history in English rugby. He made his debut playing against Rugby Lions; a club I saw play last season; he scored 3 tries in 10 minutes! Announcing his arrival in some style!
He was at Rotherham during a volatile time in the clubs’ history; they had a spell in the top flight that saw some great games with good crowds but left them relegated. There was an idea to sell the club to a South African consortium who wanted to move the club to London! That’s rather a long way from Yorkshire and thankfully didn’t come to fruition.
David recalled a friendly warm up game; where with 30 lads in the changing room it was questioned whether they’d be covered insurance wise. They received no answer so the game was called off The likes of Nick Easter were at the club at that time. It has been a breeding ground for top class players.
There was an exodus of experienced players allowing David to become a first team player and start to take the chances that came his way. Terry Sands of Samurai Rugby 7’s contacted David and he was whisked off to Amsterdam when another player dropped out. So began his love affair with 7’s rugby!
He played in the 2nd and each subsequent game; scoring a hat trick in the final he was named Player of the Tournament. Terry Sands contacted Mike Friday England 7’s coach and so his England career started.
David completed his university course and joined Rotherham on a full time basis. Harlequins had been relegated the season before and that was to prove to be to David’s benefit. John Kingston a Quins coach spotted him when he was looking at rivals Bedford Blues. Mike Scmid who’d been player/coach at Rotherham was at Esher a Quins feeder club; when contacted he advised Quins to sign David.
Quins travelled to Rotherham playing them in driving rain; David recalls being in the showers when Dean Richards came in and asked him if he wanted to join Harlequins. In common with many rugby players I suspect, David was too busy playing to watch the game; he confessed he hadn’t really known who Richards was!
David signed with Harlequins for the 2006-2007 season as they returned to the big time; he knew Danny Care another Northern lad and shared a house with him. He was signed as a squad player but excelled at The Stoop; so much so that he made his debut in October 2006 and would be playing for the senior England team by February 2007! A meteoric rise!
How did that happen so quickly? Well there was an element of chance; he was picked fo rte Saxons squad and trained alongside James Simpson Daniel., otherwise known as Sinbad. He was released by the Saxons and on his way home when Jim Mallinder the coach at that time called him back as ‘Sinbad’ had pulled is hamstring. He played against Ireland and put o a good show.
The senior team were playing in Ireland the following weekend in an historic fixture at the mighty Croke Park; the first rugby match to take place there. A similar tale for David – he was heading home to Warrington on a day off when the phone went. The conversation went – ‘Hello David, this is Viv, we need you to come to training, Jason’s injured, we’re going to need you to come to Bath’
David had no idea who Viv was but did know that Danny Care was in Bath! He realised ‘This is England!’ and Jason was Jason Robinson! It was 10pm when he arrived in Bath with no boots or kit. Brian Ashton was in reception and casually told him – ‘Just to let you know – Jason’s injured – you’re starting!’.
David had a surreal evening, Andy Farrell and Jonny Wilkinson were playing darts; Andy greeted him with ‘Aye up Stretts, how’re you doing?’. Jonny said ‘ We’ll go through the moves’ and so in a slight daze David found himself sitting on Jonny Wilkinson’s bed discussing tactics!
It was confined that he was playing on the Friday; he had 3 tickets and his parents and girlfriend of the time managed to get to Dublin. His uncles weren’t to miss the Craic and made their way over; no tickets for them but they watched the game in a pub of course mentioning their nephew.
On that day David had his favourite and most memorable moment of his career as he scored a try on his debut. At this point he casually mentioned that he’d scored 5, yes 5 tries on his England 7’s debut! He played against France the following week and then looked forward to preparations for the 2007 World Cup.
The build up was a tough 5 to 6 weeks and included a fixture against Wales; Jason and David were rested with a view to them being the starting wingers for the World Cup. He was warming up with Josh Lewsey when he felt his foot ‘go’. he’d broken his 5th metatarsal; likely a stress fracture after the intense training schedule.
And so came the lowest moment of his England career as he found himself sitting in pain with no way to go to the World Cup. He returned to Quins with his foot healing in time. The following season he played against Wales and Lee Byrne accidentally stamped on the same foot. (David was keen to emphasise this was purely accidental).
The same injury happened a third time as he was playing for Quins against Worcester; he felt that his rugby career may well be over at that stage. The bone was in fact dead so the treatment the 3rd time round involved a bone graft akin to using polyfilla. This along has done the trick and on th whole he’s been injury free.
We spoke a little about his current non-position with England and I think the statistics hold out the fact that David is twice the player he was when he first started. But the position is a ‘glamour’ role and you’ll often have the new kid on the block taking his place in the team. We’ll see what 2015 brings.
We spoke briefly about Saracens; his contract was up at Quins after a good 4 years’ it was just after ‘bloodgate’ a bad time in the club’s history. David wasn’t keen to move and would have thought of a traditional club such as Bath or Northampton if he was to move. But, Andy Farrell called him and invited him to visit Old Albanians.
He felt that Saracens had a team he could fit into and he went on to win the Premiership title with then club in his first season. To explain his view of the club he now sees as home he feels ‘Saracens is a family club; you feel like you’re part of the whole club’ . Nigel Wray comes along to every Captain’s Run and is always available to players should they need him.
It has to be said things have gone very well for David at Saracens and he has become a crowd favourite; and that old perception of him being injury prone has been disproved.
A 31 David has a fair few years to play yet all being well; but he has an eye on his future as he always has had, He has a portfolio of properties which he’s built up over the years; but he’s building a new plan using his experience of playing on the 7’s circuit.
In common with many in the rugby world David enjoys the social aspect; the banter if you like; he can’t see a career in the City beckoning. He’s building on the time he’s invested in rugby as well as on what is a high profile name.
He dipped his toe in the water organising a tournament at La Manga for 2 years; for various reason that proved impractical. 18 months ago Matt Stevens discussed his fancy for setting up a food and music festival at Allianz Park. Their thoughts turned to making the best use of both their expertise and the facilities available and Sevens and the City was born!
In addition to a large Sevens rugby tournament both a netball and Cross Fit competition were included last year. This year the blueprint will be the same but will be held over the weekend with camping and ‘glamping’. The concept will be built on with a mirror event to be planned in Durban.
David is clearly relishing the task of organising such a big event; again in his words – ‘it’s like organising your 16th birthday party’ – I have a feeling the event will be a huge success and will grow and grow. Th event takes place over the weekend of 3, 4, 5 July 2015.
Team entry is now open for this summers’ event and teams can register via the website – www.sevensandthecity.com The weekend is open to players and spectators alike; all are welcome to go along and enjoy lots of sport, music and join in one big party!
Here’s one current star of rugby with a clear eye on his ‘Life After Rugby’