||Willingham, November 25, 1931|
||24 caps between 1956 and 1962|
||England v Argentina (November 11, 2006)|
The intensity of preparation by the modern England teams must have some of the old guard of the mid-20th century spinning in their graves. Just read, for example, what happened to Dickie Jeeps when he arranged a brief get-together of the England XV team he was captaining in a match against The Rest in 1962.
“It was a trial match for the team to play Wales at Twickenham the following weekend. I was determined to play. I was captain of England at the time.
“I wrote to all the team and I told them, ‘As far as I am concerned, I want to play for England and I hope you are all with me in wanting to do the same. If you want to play for England versus Wales we need to win this trial match. I want you all to meet at Richmond at 2.30pm next Friday.’
“When Col Frank Prentice, the secretary of the Rugby Football Union got to hear about that, I got a bollocking. A terrible bollocking. He told me, ‘This is not a professional game.’
“But the get-together worked, because we won the game and I think 14 of the England trial side went on to play in the match against Wales, so you can’t say it wasn’t a good idea.”
Preparation seemed to be a feature of Jeeps’ career, sometimes intentional, other times involuntary. For example he credits an invitation match in Cornwall – in which played inside the great Cliff Morgan –for his selection for the British and Irish Lions’ tour to South Africa in 1955 – in the summer before he made his England debut (against Wales) at Twickenham in1956.
“I think Cliff got me on to the party because he liked my service. The reason I had been asked to play in this invitation match was because I had recently played for Northampton against Cardiff and we won 22-9.
“And if I tell you that the ball went into touch just four times in that match it is no word of a lie. It was a brilliant game of rugby. I was lucky because I had a good game and Cliff was playing, so he saw me at first hand.”
It was his eye for detail and the Boy Scouts’ philosophy of Be Prepared that saw Jeeps, before his first match as the England captain (coincidentally against Wales) at Twickenham in 1960, invite the stand-by fly half Richard Sharp to Cambridgeshire.
“I had never thrown a pass at Richard Sharp before,” explained Jeeps, “so on the Sunday before he came up to see me and we practised passing in the local recreation ground. And it was just as well we put in that time, because Richard ended up playing in the team the following Saturday after Bev Risman got injured.”
Jeeps had made his debut against, yes, Wales at Twickenham in 1956 in front of a crowd of 75,000. He was one of ten new caps on that cold January day. He found himself in opposition to his Lions half back partner Morgan, who was captaining Wales. The visitors won a match that many observers felt should have been won by England.
“I was dropped after that match,” said Jeeps, who had to wait until the following January when he returned against, naturally, Wales, in Cardiff. This time England won and Jeeps kept his place.
In all Jeeps played 24 times for his country and captained them on 13 occasions. His leadership record makes for a creditable read: played 13, won five, drawn four, lost four.
When he looks back at his career, he recalls with fondness the old Twickenham and, for him, its special feature. “I used to love the old baths. They were wonderful, and the home dressing room was always nice and warm.”
Now he feels the modern stadium has lost something. “With the old ground the stands used to rear up perhaps 10 yards from the touchline and it was intimidating for visiting sides. It was like a fortress to us. Now it does not seem to have those same qualities.”
But he does feel there is much to commend it, including the Museum’s Wall of Fame, an honour of which he says he is very proud, glad that players from other generations can be remembered in such notable way.
Article by Dai Llewellyn