Chris Bentley: Stringer used all his experience to help Bath get better of Exe
DOGS age much quicker than humans do. One human year, as a rule of thumb, is equivalent to seven for our canine friends.
In a very similar way, there is a division to be made within the ranks of rugby teams. Forwards age like mere mortals but backs more like dogs.
If you study a rugby team it's pretty obvious that the closer to the front of the scrum you get, the later your peak in the game arrives while the further back, the faster.
A look at this year's Chiefs academy only goes to highlight this. The exceptional tyro that is Luke Cowan-Dickie aside, the youngsters that are breaking through under the age of 20 are all backs while their contemporaries in the forwards – Will Carrick-Smith, Dave Ewers etc – are the other side of their teens.
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If you go to the other end of the scale, you'll notice a lot more forwards still plying their trade well into their 30s than you will backs. Right now, Rich Baxter at 34 is merely a spring chicken when you look at evergreen Chris Budgen! For backs that make it beyond the age of 30 there is a lot of credit to be offered because, if you accept the back years being like dog years theory, they are closer to being 60!
One of the key points to the back years theory is that, just like dogs, you can't teach an old back a new trick. Whereas in the forwards there are dark arts that need to be mastered over the years, backs rely on more obvious attributes like speed and pace. As they age so do these attributes. Those that do make it to old age have to have something special about them.
Take for example the Chiefs very own 'old man river' Jason Shoemark. At 31 – 32 on Tuesday – he is seen as something of a miracle to the backline that plays around him, putting in a steady stream of solid displays, belying his near octogenarian status!
Unfortunately, last Saturday we came against a back that at 35 is the equivalent to a real old terrier of 90. Peter Stringer may have lost some of the physical prowess that earned him 98 caps for Ireland and a few Heineken Cups with Munster, but he still had the trick of winning up his sleeve.
With the scores tied and the teams in something of a deadlock, the old boy used all of his wily ability to steer Bath to yet another result over the Chiefs that still leaves us without a competitive win against Bath in more than 30 years or, to put it in 'back year' parlance 64!
It seemed somewhat apt that the game taking place last weekend was between Bath and Exeter because while the two teams were doing battle, Mrs Bentley and I enjoyed the sights of the city that founded the two cities – Rome.
For the history buffs amongst you, had we have been witnessing the gladiatorial contest at The Rec a few thousand years ago, the teams would actually have been called Aquae Sulis and Isca Dumnoniorum.
However, an even more obscure fact from the week just passed is that I managed to partake more calories than have ever been consumed by a single human being. My current and rather plump demeanour is a direct result of visiting as many trattorias and pizzerias within the Eternal City as possible!
At this time of the season the transfer wheels are truly spinning but it's great to see yet another couple of the current squad signing on for more.
In the modern global rugby market, being Bristol born-and-bred, James Phillips is near enough a local boy while Cullompton lad Ben Moon most definitely is.
To see boys who are from the region staying on is of massive importance to the club. Don't get me wrong, being able to run out alongside Sireli Naqelevuki or Gonzalo Camacho is magnificent for the club, but South West boys lead the culture at the club and it's important to ensure that the heart of the team is always in the region.
In an age where all the players are as big and as strong as one another and the smallest factors can be the difference between a one point win and loss, having local blood in the team and the knock-on affect that will have is hugely important.
On the other hand, as one that has travelled the world on the back of rugby, I can understand guys moving from club to club but still feel sad to see members of our own squad leave for pastures new.
Having locked down with Aly Muldowney a fair bit during my last season as a Chief, it's especially a poignant to see the big lad is off to Connacht.
This weekend sees the Six Nations return. Unfortunately our one England representative Tom Johnson won't be present as he is rehabilitating but we do still have Craig Mitchell in the Welsh squad. Regrettably, like Mitch as I do, I'll not be cheering for the men from the Principality.
Although I still bear a grudge that Jonno is our only England squad member, I shall still be cheering for the Red Rose and I hope that we manage to build on the miraculous victory over the All Blacks last autumn. If indeed we do then I for one can't see past us winning the whole tournament.
The Irish seem to be at a crossroads with a golden generation all getting a bit long in the tooth and new blood to settle in, Wales seem to be in a real pickle after their heroics at the World Cup, Italy and Scotland are, well, Italy and Scotland, and I feel the French are hampered by later access to their players and playing what I see as the decider at Twickenham.
Regardless, kick-off at Sandy Park is delayed so that you can catch the Calcutta Cup match on the big screens and then cheer on our boys as we face Northampton in a game we have to win to stand any further chance in the LV= Cup.
Additionally, it will be the first past players fixture since we came to Sandy Park and a great chance to tip the hat to the generations that laid the foundations to get us where we are now.
Until the next time, stay safe and enjoy your rugby.