He was the player of the season when Saints won the double and has been the heart of oak in the scrum for countless years but now Christian Day is facing a new challenge. He is going to be reaching out in English rugby and creating a dialogue about the future of the game with the people who actually play it at the highest level. Steve Scoles met with Christian for a bit of looking forward and a bit of looking back. Pictures are by Dave Ikin from Christian’s Day 5 Testimonial touch rugby game, his last outing at Franklin’s Gardens…
SS: When do you take up your new role?
CD: I start the job in July. It’s exciting. It’s a completely new role, something they haven’t done before but they desperately need. It will be interesting to see if I can get some traction with players. It will be interesting because I’m an ex player. They will know who I am but I know what rugby players are like so… (chuckles) My job is try to engage with the most influential and the biggest names and they are invariably quite shy and standoffish because of how much media attention they get. It will be interesting to see how that works. I bumped into Dan Biggar at the club this morning. It must be his first day there and I literally ran after him in the car park. So yeah exciting.
SS: Do you already know him?
CD: I played against him several times and he knows George North very well and George gave me just about the best reference you could have in terms of being a great bloke so yeah. Seems like a top bloke. My primary target is to liaise with the most influential and find out what they think.
Rugby has only been professional coming up to 20 years, players dont realise how important their voice is sometimes. It is now only just getting to the point where professionalism is properly taking hold. You have got salary caps and everything else. As a player you can be hugely exploited in that environment. At the end of the day a salary cap affects how much we can earn. Quotas on the number of games you play might affect your next contract. As a player you can get forgotten about, as the person who goes on the pitch and puts their body on the line, puts the bums on the seats and everything else.
SS: Do you have to deal with player agents?
CD: Nowhere near the same extent as football, most players will have an agent but that agent is there to facilitate contracts, end of, very few players will have an agent relationship like a footballer does where he sorts out housing, furniture and everything else. We just dont have that amount of money. I find it quite laughable in the press, everybody saying the players earn too much.
Some players earn a very lovely amount of money, 75 per cent of players dont earn anywhere near the figures talked about in the press and 95 per cent of players will have to find a day job when they retire. It’s very rarely an amount of money that means the player puts their feet up for the rest of their life.
It is an amazing lifestyle and career and an absolute leg up if you use your money wisely and you should finish comfortably but it’s not like a footballer where 10k a week is a very average wage. I doubt there is a rugby palyer in England who gets 10k a week from his club. We are talking about the cream of the crop. It’s a different world. When you think Saints have been one of the top teams in country, division two footballers are paid about the same.
SS: You get some bright lads playing rugby…
CD: The days when rugby players all came from private school are gone because of the academy systems. You do get a lot of intelligent guys playing rugby, whether that’s the make-up of the person who makes a rugby player who knows but certainly I don’t think it is the elitist sport of only Oxbridge players playing for england.
SS: You were part of the generation that pioneered professionalism…
CD: My age group is one of the first fully professional from 18 to the end. We weren’t nearly as professional as what the sport demands now. Being paid to do something doesn’t necessarily mean you are professional. You had people when I started out who were being paid to be a rugby players who weren’t anywhere near as professional as they are now.
SS: These days you see young players in the grass roots clubs who will do anything to have that pro career…
CD: We need to have some caution around that. You are getting 15-year-olds who want to be a rugby player, don’t want to do anything else, who go to a college and study sport concentrate on rugby to be a rugby player. Very few get the chance. Very few get through to the stage where they have a career of 17 years like mine. There has got to be some caution with this new age of professionalism and the influence that will have on some young people.
You hear about it in America. I like to compare with NFL because the 60s is when they went hyper professional. They have had 50 odd years of it now. You hear about kids in school being held back a year so they are bigger and stronger for high school football. From the age of 14 they are going to be a football player but only a tiny percentage make it. Fine margins.
SS: Rugby obviously takes a real toll on a player’s body too…
CD: Anyone who gets to play a sport for a living is lucky end of. There are drawbacks and a price to pay. My shoulder isn’t great, it needs a lot of work just to get through daily life. There is a price to pay. I don’t think it should put you off. At Saints we have got five or six physios, doctors, osteopaths, we have all kinds of safeguards in place.
Concussion is something that came around four or five years ago but is so well policed now. When I started unless you were out cold and carried off on a stretcher you carried on. That thankfully doesn’t happen now and your brain is just so important. We don’t want to be 20 or 30 years down the line saying you shouldn’t have done that. We are taking it as seriously as it should be taken. Professional sport is brutal and rugby more so on top of that. I don’t think anyone would say we shouldn’t look after the people who play it.
SS: This last season at Saints has been… well you tell me what your feelings about the season are.
CD: A disappointing season in a results sense. There has been a massive amount of change and that has been a decision taken by the people who run the top of the club. Seventeen players not playing for Saints next year. We have seen some club legends move on: a huge turnover of staff both on and off the pitch. That is the decision that has been made. They need some change. It’s easy to forget the last ten years at Saints has been one of the most successful periods at the club there has ever been under one coach, one director of rugby – it is a town with a big rugby club and big expectations behind it.
SS: Do you ever look at online forums or social media?
CD: I used to look at fan comments when I was younger but never do now. You can understand people are passionate. I don’t understand people who like to talk as though they understand what goes on in a professional environment, unless you have been in one you don’t know. That’s the thing that really gets to me. They don’t really know what they are talking about.
The social media of today, not only can they have that opinion they can spread it via their friends and even contact the player out and tell them what they think. I have had very few negative incidents over the years but I know some players do get a lot of negative comments directed at them and that is not very nice.
SS: Fans can be pretty merciless…
CD: I love to make the parallel, you work for a normal business, you might have a big project or review two or three times a year. We have 35 weekends a year when we will be judged and assessed, not only that, the other team are being assessed at the same time, both teams want to win.
We have 12,000 people in the stands assessing us, thousands of people reading the papers assessing us, worse than that we have our coaches and team-mates who will be assessing us on Monday morning. Everyone expects to win at the end of the day. That lets you in on the kind of stress in professional sport, particularly in a season when you haven’t been very successful.
They can be horrible. We don’t operate the way most people do. If you do something wrong someone is going to tell you straight to your face, straight away. You do several things wrong people won’t talk to you or you don’t get picked. You don’t get picked you don’t have a job any more. Brutal is the right word. I’ve sat in meetings and you get called out in front of 50 other people, this was your fault, you’ve let everyone down, you’ve lost us this game.
If something needs to be said people won’t be afraid to say it. If there is an 18 year old telling everyone how to do their job that’s different. If it was about me I would probably say it myself before anyone else gets a chance to say it. Everyone forgives one mistake. Everyone makes mistakes. The effort mistakes are not forgiven. If you are not putting in what everyone else is, you will get found out.
SS: Who is the worst coach you have had for dishing out a dressing down?
CD: I had two French coaches in my career and neither of them were particularly nice when things didn’t go right. Philipe StAndre at Sale was an incredibly meticulous man and very rugby intelligent and he would pick out the most minute things that annoyed him and he was the kind of man who would give you both barrels without hesitation. Very similar character Fabien Galtieri in paris, incredibly rugby intelligent man and again things that an ordinary fan wouldn’t notice, ten things that need to happen for a winger to get the ball and score a try. If one of those things wasn’t right they would notice and you would often be sat there scratching your head: “but we scored?” One of those things wasn’t right they would let you know.
SS: Is Dylan Hartley a demanding guy as captain?
CD: Dylan’s very straightforward guy. His actual personality is very different to how he is portrayed publicly and that is why he is such a success as England captain. He is very straightforward he lets you know what he wants and he expects it, but he holds himself to a very high standard and will deliver what you expect of him. I played with him for ten years at Saints, I’ve got respect for him and I think he has for me. I wouldn’t hold myself in the same regard as him in terms of leadership, respect where it’s due. I’ve always been a leader within the team but in terms of being that figurehead he has always been a very strong-willed guy and is very good at it.
SS: How did your family feel about you retiring from playing?
CD: My family were not entirely happy. My wife has been with me since we were 18, she knows the rugby world, she was like “can’t you play one more year?”
The short working days are gone but the weekends are back. So we can book holidays.
Christian Day is celebrating his ten years at Saints with a gala dinner to raise funds for his Day 5 Testimonial good causes. Find out about tickets here.