Chris Bentley: A closer look shows the Chiefs are improving
WHEN I was a Chief, I used to get my hair cut with clippers. "Number two all over please" was the staple request at the barber shop.
Being a rugby player meant you would be getting very sweaty very dirty. Unless you were a disgusting creature like the club's resident outdoorsmen Haydn Thomas and Simon Alcott – who recycle their kit to last all week and like to keep their odour 'au naturel' so as not to disturb their quarry – you would be getting washed a lot. For a man who is essentially lazy, short hair was a simple and logical choice. It took no effort to maintain and was dry with the touch of a towel post shower.
It did, however, have a minor drawback. Away from the pitch, being of large frame with short hair, folk would be quick to judge. All too often I would see someone cross the street as they saw me approach.
Add the occasional black eye or facial stitches and the perception that I was something of a thug was an all-too-regular occurrence. However, using the logic of a man who makes his living pushing the backside of another, I came up with a foolproof plan: spectacles. I would buy the biggest and most obvious frames to disguise the thug and create the scholar!
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As I transferred into the world of business, the short hair began to grow and the 'corporate quiff' took effect. Followed by a few suits from the club tailor, the transformation from big yeti to man of distinction that wouldn't look out of place in any boardroom was complete.
For a long time I thought that it was indeed just myself and Clark Kent who had this fantastic solution. The irony was that, whereas Superman used the specs to disguise his superhuman ability, I was looking to do the opposite and conceal a big lumbering dummy. However, this all changed last weekend when another member of the playing staff followed my lead.
As I met the four players joining me for corporate hospitality pre-game, I was amazed to see the 6ft 6in. 18-stone frame of James Hanks sporting a big thick-rimmed pair of specs. Obviously suffering from a similar problem, he had taken to the thick-frame solution!
Being a man with a ridiculously small cranium for such a large frame, I couldn't claim to be the inspiration for the mop that adorns his head, but the specs were blatantly following on from my inspiration. The only unfortunate point was that he pulled it off a lot better than me. I suppose, as the saying goes, 'silk purse and sows ear'!
My idea of dressing the barbarian as the brain had been done much better than I had and I have to tip the hat to big Hanksy for getting the look down. Indeed, I thought I had done it well until he turned up looking a damn sight finer than me. This was very similar when I heard Rob Baxter speak at a sponsor's event last week.
Last week I discussed how the players were all too happy to sign up for more with the Chiefs as we complete our evolution into a Premiership-standard side. However, on listening to the commander in chief, it became apparent that one more eloquent than myself was well aware of what he was doing and how to take it to another level.
On arrival in the Premiership, explained Rob, we had a definite plan to survive that may not be the prettiest but would mean we garnered enough points to survive and consolidate. Consolidation, however, was merely the beginning of the plan. Once we had a foothold in the league the intention was always to move on.
A juggernaut pack and a metronomic kicker would get you so far, but to thrive there must be a more complete threat. The stats don't lie, this season the Chiefs have the most defenders beaten, the most clean breaks, the second most offensive metres, the most total passes and the most tries – this is a team looking to play total rugby.
Through the early part of the season, this worked fantastically and we flew to a strong league position on the back of a nine-game winning streak. However, the winter arrived and the fine skills that had put us in such good stead were challenged to breaking point. Missed passes, dropped catches, the distance between winning and losing became just too big, causing us to stumble.
However, on Saturday the weather was clear, the pitch was firm and the boys attacked the game from the off.The passes stuck, the bulldozers made the line and we scored four tries to place London Welsh right in the mire and re-ignite our season.
This weekend we face the Harlequins – a team against whom we had our most complete performance of the Premiership era and who now sit the top of the league. This provides a real acid test for the team. As the 'business end' of the season begins to unfold, will we be able to do the double on a team that never have it easy against us?
Although a loss doesn't mean the end of the season with a quarter of the games to play, a win certainly puts us right back in the mix, and you can trust this pundit's opinion on this one as I'm very intelligent.... and I have the glasses prove it!
Until the next time, stay safe and enjoy your rugby.