Unforgettables - Roger Uttley

Date: 3 Sep 2020

Born in Blackpool, he represented England schools before playing for Fylde Colts. He then went to college in the Northeast and joined Gosforth, helping them win the John Player Cup in 1976 and 1977. First capped as a lock, in 1973, he declined an invitation to play Rugby League with Wigan. He went on the 1974 Lions tour of South Africa and played in all four Tests as a flanker.

He captained England in the 1977 Five Nations and was selected for the Lions tour of New Zealand, but a back injury forced him to pull out before the team set off.

After setting up a business in Hemel Hempstead, he joined Wasps. He returned to the England team and played throughout the 1980 Grand Slam season. The following year, his recurring back injury ended his career prematurely.

As a sports teacher at Harrow School, he sent a series of player to Wasps, including Gareth Rees, Paul Balcombe, Damian Hopley, Fraser Waters and Tom French.

He helped the club’s coaching team, before becoming England coach, in 1988. As Ian McGeechan’s assistant, he helped the Lions to a series win in Australia, the following year. In 1991, his final year as England coach, he guided them to the Grand Slam and the World Cup Final.

 

OUTSTANDING MEMORIES OF WASPS

I’d been struggling with my back for a couple of seasons, but I met an osteopath called Terry Mole who really sorted me out. I set up a business with him in Hemel Hempstead.

Tony Richards, who I knew very well from my Fylde days, persuaded me to join Wasps. He’d gone down there and had captained them for a couple of seasons. As I was living in Hemel, Sudbury was very convenient

My first real memory of Wasps is of playing at Sudbury, in my final game for Gosforth. I’d already decided to move to Wasps the following season. We hammered them, and a lot of my teammates were asking me why on earth I wanted to join them. They’d been in the doldrums, but Mark Taylor, who was a hard-nosed Kiwi, had come on board. Blacky (Alan Black) was coaching them.

It was an interesting time. There were some great guys there. Rob Smith, John Lambden, Johnno Thompson, Ian Bell, John Bonner, Judge Rendall, Alan Simmons. We became a pretty good side. I really enjoyed myself and got back to full fitness. I got my England place back and we won the Grand Slam in 1980, so that was a nice way to end my international career.

That same season, I played in the Middlesex Sevens and we had a great semi-final against Richmond, which we lost at the death. Nigel Starmer-Smith interviewed me and I said it had been a great game, which I’d really enjoyed, but I hadn’t kept up with the score and I thought we’d won. I couldn’t understand why everybody had looked so dejected. 

My final game for Wasps was at Rosslyn Park, in what was also Nigel Melville’s first game for the club. I was struggling with my back again. Our business had been taken over, and I was having to take work a bit more seriously, so I couldn’t train as much as I wanted. I went down to Rosslyn Park with Ian Bell and I left there, stretched out on the back seat. After the game, I was talking to Andy Ripley in the showers and I told him I knew that I’d played my last game.

 

SUPPORTERS AND SUDBURY

Sudbury was a great clubhouse. It was a family-orientated club and there was a wonderful camaraderie between players and supporters. The big downstairs bar was excellent and we’d always see people like Neville Compton, Peter Yarranton, Ivor Montlake and John Langley in there. We also had some great Christmas parties there.  

The pitch wasn’t that brilliant and you always had problems if you were playing from the clubhouse end in the second half, as the setting sun would be in your eyes. 

We had those scruffy old concrete baths and I remember when they tiled them. We thought that was very posh.


CURRENT INVOLVEMENT

I follow Wasps and Falcons closely and am delighted to see them both doing well, on and off the field.

Today’s attention to detail is admirable, but people can become obsessed with detail. A player’s doing his job if he goes to ground and makes the ball available. If he tries an offload and it’s intercepted, he’ll be crucified. You can see why a lot of people think players find it hard to play off the cuff.

You look at how the All Blacks can soak up pressure, but the opposition then make a couple of mistakes and New Zealand’s intuitive footballing ability to cash in is quite superb. They also bring extraordinary pace to the game. We have people with that pace, but not so many with the intuitive footballing ability to finish things off.

I think there’s too much rugby now and having so many internationals harms the club game. Overall, though, I think the sport’s in a pretty good place.