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Ancient History


CAW meets Alex Codling

By The Prof  October 22 2002

Alex Codling

Alex Codling ©Prof

Alex Codling, Quins and England second row is 6’ 5” and was born in Lewisham on 25th September 1973. He sees the following two games - Bristol (a) & Bath (h) - as pivotal to our season, if we win these two we could end up in the top five in no time at all. He graciously gives an interview to CAW

ComeAllWithin (CAW):What first got you in to rugby?
Alex Codling (AC): It was purely to do with school, at my junior school I played football, but at the age of twelve I started playing rugby at Trinity School, Croydon.

CAW: What is your first rugby memory?
AC: Again it goes back to Trinity School, when I was twelve Buck Shelford came down to take a coaching session because obviously at the time he was a legend with the All Blacks.

CAW: Do you think he will do well at Sarries?
AC: Yes, I think he will, but it might take him a bit of time to get his way of thinking across to the team - both he and Wayne Smith at Northampton have a very direct and forthright approach, it may take a bit of time and it will need a bit of change in the British culture.

CAW: Before coming to Quins you were at Blackheath, Richmond & Neath, how did that happen?
AC: I played for Wasps too when I first started, I played there from the age of eighteen to twenty-one with Lawrence and the like, I only played a few first team games because the likes of Norm Hadley and Dean Ryan were there. I was just a young pup in the team and was just learning my trade. We had a fantastic U21s team, I think seven of the guys have now been capped which is something and we were unbeaten for three years so that in itself was an experience.
Then I went to Blackheath purely for the chance to play first team rugby and at the time they were in the old first division on the verge of when rugby went professional. When it did go professional I moved to Richmond which was a completely different experience. They had just made some big name signings like Scott Quinnell, Craig Quinnell, Alan Bateman, Pichot, and so on. I was still only 22 and had had a few games for Blackheath but I wanted to give professionalism a go. Then Richmond basically went bust after three years for various reasons, Ashley Levett pulled his money out, contracts were terminated and I was unemployed as all the guys were. An opportunity arose to go to Wales so I took it as a challenge and that’s how the move to Neath came about.

CAW: Is it a very different playing rugby in Wales?
AC: Oh yes, the whole concept of rugby is very different in Wales. Don’t get me wrong, they’re very, very passionate about their rugby in England but it is different in Wales, they are tribal. You are born to a club and that stays in your blood all your life, and the whole town is the rugby club, there are no other sports, so that was an experience. The support down there was fantastic, there is a lot of heritage down there at The Gnoll.

CAW: This is now your third season here at Quins, what brought you here?
AC: I had really enjoyed my time at Neath and I’d started playing some good rugby down there but I fancied coming back. I thought I had a good chance to get some in contention for some representative honours. At the time there was a new set up here, there had just been a massive clear out, everything was starting afresh and I wanted to give it a go, and I’m glad I did.

CAW: How have things changed in the three years?
AC: Massively, I think the first year was always going to be a year of transition, there were only seven people on the books when I came and they had to integrate twenty-five new players into the squad, at this level that is difficult, the reason why Leicester are so successful is that they only have a few changes each year. That first year we played some attractive rugby but we were still finding out about each other both on and off the pitch let alone playing as a team. We won the Shield and got to the cup final which was fantastic.
Last season was disappointing in some senses but now things are starting to happen, the supporters and players are both starting to have high expectations. When things don’t come off that’s when the disappointment comes and that’s not altogether a bad thing we’ve got to set our sights high. But it’s always going to take time especially with the number of new players we have had, now we are starting to see the benefits of some of the young players coming through.
The supporters have been fantastic, they’ve been very patient. At this level the margins are so small between success and failure, but I think we are one of the few clubs that has a great balance between youth and experience and that can only come about by giving the guys a run – they can train well but it is in match situations when you gain the experience. I certainly don’t think we are far away as the results this season have shown, we still have to cut out the odd mistake that is costing us and we have got to make The Stoop more of a fortress, which I think will happen. We shouldn’t have lost the first two home games but that’s by the by now and we have got to look forward, all in all I think Quins are moving forward both on and off the pitch.

CAW: When it comes to training can you give us a bit of an idea how your week is structured?
AC: As a rule we play on the Saturday, on Sunday in the morning we do a regen. session which means you either do a swim, hot and cold baths, or a cycle just to loosen up and reduce the stiffness. Monday morning is power weights normally and then we’ll do some individual skills and that’s up to what the individual players think they need to work on. In the afternoon we’ll do a rugby session where we’ll work on anything we feel we need to work on from the weekend and try out new things. Tuesday we’ll do a lot of fitness in the morning – speed and agility with some weights in there, and in the afternoon again we’ll have a rugby session, normally defence and some other aspects of the game that Mark wants to work on. Wednesday morning is purely set piece that’s all technical things with split forwards and backs, in the afternoon there’ll be weights. Thursday will be defence and a team run, in the afternoon we’ll generally do light weights and on Friday we’ll rest or travel if we have an away game. That’s just the basic week, some players will do more.

CAW: You are injured at a moment, so how will your training differ from the norm?
AC: Well it obviously depends on the injury, if you have a shoulder injury you can still do cycling or whatever. With me having a hamstring injury I couldn’t do running at the start so you just work on other areas. We work closely with the physios and the fitness team and they work out a specific programme and decide where they want us to be by a specific time, depending on the speed of recovery they will tailor the programme to the individual.

CAW: How worrying is it for you at the moment to see Pooky [Paul Pook the fitness coach] hobbling about at the moment?
AC: Not at all, Paul is a fantastic fitness guy, he’s just had longstanding trouble with his knee and it just needed to be sorted out. He can do all his stuff with us from a standing position.

CAW: How’s your hamstring now?
AC: I wasn’t fully fit for the first three games but I obviously wanted to go out and do my best for Quins. But I am getting there now and am very close to full fitness, I have been doing full training for the last two weeks, it’s looking good and I am aiming to be back for Bristol. 

CAW: I have heard that you and Roy Winters are the two guys who sit down and analyse the match videos and you know the team inside and out – who would be the person you would always put on the team sheet first?
AC: Well I wont mention any specific names but any team has a few key players that are core to the side – a strong hooker, tighthead, second row, back row, scrum-half, full-half and fullback. I think this year it has been proved that we have a fantastic squad and everyone deserves a shot at the shirt and anyone who plays knows they are being pushed week in week out.

CAW: Who are the best players that you have played with and against?
AC: Here it would certainly be David Wilson, I thought he was an inspiration to the club, one thing is that Andre Vos is coming, I think people can get too caught up – he is class and is a well established international – we need to give him time to bed in at the club and get to know the players and everybody. I am sure in the long term he will be as effective as David, but I thought David was a great ambassador for the club both on and off the pitch, he was a tremendous leader and someone I had a huge amount of respect for. In terms of players I have played against, to be honest in my position across the country are either internationals or there or thereabouts and I have always got respect for my opposition, you can’t play at this level if you don’t. In particular people who stand out are people like Martin Johnson and you obviously have the new age coming through – people like Ben Kay, and I played with Steve Atherton at Richmond who was a great second row with South Africa.

CAW: What would you say is your best Quins memory so far?
AC: To be honest I have had a lot of good memories, a disappointing one is obviously losing the Tetley final , good ones would include winning the Shield final – it was an end of season which made it better, we won in Brive which was a tremendous achievement and there was good Quins support there. In terms of a club game the Shied was certainly the peak. In the league we have put in a lot of memorable performances and hopefully there will be a lot more to come.

CAW: Garvey at Gloucester has just said that his ambition is to play first team rugby for Gloucester rather than play for England – are you Quins or England first?
AC: I am obviously Quins first and foremost, I think what I have done this year will show that. If I wasn’t fully behind Quins I would probably not have played the first three games of the season when I wasn’t fully fit. If I only cared about England I would probably have pulled myself out of those games to keep myself in contention for England selection. I think my actions speak louder than words – I have always been very loyal to any club I have ever played for. I have got a very soft spot for this club and I feel that I would always put the club before anything else.

CAW: Even so, you must be quite gutted at the moment to have missed selection for the England squad
AC: I think if I had been fit I would have been there or thereabouts because things went well this summer, but I tore my hamstring and it’s frustrating but as I say I always put the club first. I haven’t been fully fit to play a club game so it would have been unfair to go for England so I pulled myself out last week.

CAW: You have played for England twice – once against the Barbars and once in Argentina – what for you was better, winning the Shield or getting that call from England?
AC: The Shield was very special but I as a boy I had always dreamt about playing for England and having the red rose on my shirt. I think I would be lying if I said it was the shield final – don’t get me wrong it was a very special moment – but playing for England was a long term dream. I have been here two years and I hope to be here for many more but it has taken me six or seven years of professionalism to get into the England team, it’s been a lot of hard work and getting the call from England was a very special moment and something that will live with me for a very long time.

CAW: So how did you hear you had been selected?
AC: When I was selected for the squad to play the Barbarians I was training at Quins and I got a phone call from Clive Woodward’s PA which was obviously fantastic. I went down there with the ambition to do the best I could in training and I ended up starting, the next goal was to get into the Argentina squad which again I did and obviously I was very honoured.

CAW: You’ve obviously played in front of big crowds at Twickenham both for Quins and England, does it feel different running out wearing six colours to running out with just one?
AC: No not at all, obviously I started on the bench for the Tetley Cup Final, but playing in front of big crowds is very enjoyable and the colour of the shirt doesn’t really matter. 

CAW: Was Buenos Aires as hostile as everyone says?
AC: Yes it was. I first went out there as a schoolboy ten years ago and I played against Frederico Mendes when he was eighteen and already a rather large chap, so I already had an idea of what it would be like. The atmosphere at the test match was incredible, our whole week had been pretty intense to be honest. We had a feeling of what it would be like through the press and TV coverage, and we had beaten them in the football so that helped a lot – not! When we came out for the warm up before the game to say it was deafening would be an understatement. For the anthems the band was about ten feet away and you couldn’t hear them at all. There are a couple of times that you can see on the video during the game when both Ben Kay and myself went up on our own lineouts because it was so noisy we couldn’t hear the call. It’s something that I had never experienced before and I doubt I will ever experience again – it was amazing.

CAW: I’ve heard tales of interesting initiations into the England team, would you like to say more?
AC: Oh you’ve heard about that have you? Yes there is an initiation into the England team which I enjoyed, it was something different, I managed to pass it alright and I got my cap afterwards. It’s something associated with a lot of clubs and England is no different. It was nice, it just tops off the whole experience with the guys, it’s something that everyone else has done so you just have to follow suit. 

CAW: Do you have any silver soup tureens at home?
AC: [Laughs] Err, no I haven’t.

CAW: Which song did you sing on the coach?
AC: It was “Summer Holiday” by Cliff Richard – I am not renowned for my singing voice and my dulcet tones weren’t appreciated by the boys.

CAW: I believe Mark Regan was the leader on tour, who has the same role at Quins?
AC: He [MR] is a great guy, here, in terms of being an old head I would say Jason or Woody. Those two guys have been there, seen it and done it especially Jase with him coming from the amateur era. They are both tremendous guys and they haven’t lost the touch, camaraderie and joking which is tremendous stuff.

CAW: Is there much difference in the training techniques between Quins and England?
AC: A lot of it comes down to the personnel available, when you are with England the training is very specific – just for one game. The level of coaching is far more individualised, you have a specialist coach for every facet of the game - lineout, scrummage and defence. You are always competing against people in your position so it is all very intense, but even I was surprised by the level of intensity. One thing that I hope to have done this year is bring it back to the club game which is nice.

CAW: You have always been famed for your line out play especially your lineout stealing, is it something you have specially worked on?
AC: I have worked very hard on the defensive side of things, and I think I have always had a good understanding of the game and I try to put it to good use during the game. I know if I can disrupt opposition ball I know it will save the guys a lot of work. Lots of games are decided in the set piece and if I can do as much damage there I can give the boys a better chance of winning. I certainly work on these parts of my game, you have to because the game is moving on every year and getting a lot harder and I want to stay one step ahead. I think a lot of people notice my lineout play because it is a visual thing because I am in the air competing, but I like to think I do a lot around the pitch too. I certainly can’t rest on my laurels, last year was great but I’ve now got to push on again this year.

CAW: When a game is over, you go home – how do you unwind?
AC: I must admit that I find it very hard to wind down after a game, the adrenaline is pumping, I find it difficult to sleep and I can recall every minute of the game – I’m quite an intense guy when it comes to things like that. I usually have a stretch afterwards and a meal here [The Stoop], then I go and usually watch a bit of television and I don’t tend to drink that much. So I just relax and try to get myself ready for the next week.

CAW: Hopefully you will be playing for us for a fair few years to come, but which of the young lads that are coming trough do you think will make it big?
AC: Well I was 29 a couple of weeks ago so I am starting to get on a bit but it is good to see new lads coming through, and the squad is much better this season. Karl Rudzki is coming on and Jim Evans is another good talent, they have both started well and have tasted first team action and the thing for them is to keep working on their game, and when they do play make the most of their chances because it is becoming much more competitive, not just in my position but throughout the squad with the likes of Ugo Monye on the wing, Nick Duncombe is only a youngster and is a fantastic prospect. Now we have a good balance between youth and experience which is good for the future of Quins. 

CAW: When you do finally retire what do you think you will do?
AC: I want to try to stay in the sports industry, I’m sports mad anyway – I played first class cricket for Surrey when I was 18, I enjoy all sports thanks to my father.  

CAW: Would you ever consider becoming a referee?
AC: No , I am a mad football fan too but I can never understand why people want to do it. Obviously without referees the games cannot go on, but they are being scrutinised more than ever and it goes beyond being fun. I have empathy with them, I am not one of those guys that knocks them all the time. Every now and again we get bad decisions but I think it evens itself out over the season. 

CAW: You have always been one of the first players to come over and thank the fans, how important is the support during the game or don’t you really notice it?
AC: When the game is going on and you are in the middle of the action you don’t notice it much. The Quins support has changed so much since I have been here, I used to enjoy coming here when I was playing for the opposition, and it’s important that we make The Stoop a fortress – a place where opposition players dread to come rather than come here and enjoy it, which is the wrong mentality for them to have. The support here is starting to become fantastic – it was fantastic at the end of last year when we needed it, it has even got better at the start of this year. I’d like to thank the supporters because they do make a big difference, one thing is the away support is getting so much better, Caerphilly for example was great, we are all in this club together and if we pull together we will be up there with the best around, which is obviously where we all want to be. 

CAW: Have any fans ever stepped over the line and become stalkers?
AC: The supporters are very passionate but most of them know where to draw the line. If we’ve lost, I’m not the best loser in the world, people understand that I’ll back off. I’ll try to be as level headed as possible when we’ve won, it’s nice to take the plaudits but when it’s going badly we have to front up and see the fans which is what I think all the boys did last year. 

CAW: Do you ever visit the Come All Within or Diamond Geezer web sites?
AC: Yes I do, I’ve seen a photo of me on there with a silly wig on, I think it was after one of the games last year – London Irish? I think a lot of guys do, it gives you a feeling of what’s going on and what the mood is among the supporters. 

CAW: I don’t remember you being criticised on the sites, but if you were would it annoy you?
AC: No, things obviously went well for me last year and I liked taking the plaudits, I am well aware of what’s going on in my game and I like to face criticism rather than run away from it. It wouldn’t faze me to be honest.

CAW: On the Diamond Geezer site you already have a looky-likey with Stephen Tompkinson and another one which has just gone up is Bananaman because of your apparent love of bananas, who do you think you look like?
AC: I do love bananas and I would like to say I look like someone really attractive but with my chin and broken nose it isn’t easy. I can’t really think of likenesses nut I have a number of nicknames.

CAW: Like what?
AC: Lots from Only Fools and Horses because of the way I conduct myself on the training ground – Boycie, Marlene, Trigger, Del Boy. Another one is Lavish because I used to say it a lot when I was younger. Dukey – because they say I used to look like a dog - which is nice!

CAW: Luke Sherriff has a ‘nick name’ which is ‘Get Your Hair Cut’, what do you think about the situation?
AC: I think he should get his hair cut, I’ve always thought that. So far he has always refused but I hope we can persuade him some time in the future. Even the whip round we had didn’t persuade him, I think we’ll have to go to drastic measures to get his locks chopped off.

CAW: How much would we need to raise for a charity like Future Hope or WhizzKidz for you to wear a pair of Diamond Geezer trews for an evening in the bar?
AC: I think they are very dazzling, I’ve worn many different things in my time that have been striking but they would certainly be up there with the best of them! I would certainly say to you now that at some point in the season I would be willing to wear them if you have a whip round for charity.

CAW: I think that’s just about everything I wanted to ask you, oh except – since you have a love of bananas do you know what the phrase ‘a banana up your six’ means?
AC: I have no idea now that you have just asked me that, perhaps you can enlighten me.
CAW: I think you had better ask Binky!






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