This week saw the 100th day of lockdown, so I decided to speak to one of our Herring ambassadors to see how the life of a professional rugby player has been affected by lockdown.
I catch Ben on his way to work. He has dropped off his young children, Mabel and Finley, at school and is heading to Sandy Park for some socially distanced training. This is far from normal, but it is an improvement from life during strict lockdown.
Exeter Chiefs’ and Ben’s last game was against Bath at Sandy Park on March 7. The home team recorded a 57-20 win and were top of the table. The club had a rest week scheduled for the following week, but COVID-19 struck, and the week turned into months.
“It was all very surreal. We were told would not be able to come in again for at least a month. That became two months, then three. It was strange.”
There was no rest of course. The squad had enough time to collect equipment from the club that they could use at home to maintain their strength and conditioning programmes. Ben also had to become the main carer at home while his wife Laura continued her key worker role as an occupational therapist.
“I got up at 6am and went to a local football pitch to do my conditioning before everyone else got there! Then I was at home with the kids before they went back to school. I’ve been doing a bit of home schooling, Mabel learned to ride her bike, built bird boxes and hedgehogs houses, so some life skills in there too.”
Top-flight rugby is currently targeting August 15 for the resumption of Gallagher Premiership Rugby and the Heineken Champions Cup is due to resume in October. This has seen a phased return to training for Ben and his club team-mates.
“We are still in our conditioning pods right now. There is talk about moving into the group training stage. Everything is still very last-minute though. We are still in our groups of six…all socially distanced.
“It’s nice to be back at work. It makes life so much easier to go somewhere to train. Training before was all timed around the kids. Hopefully, games are just around the corner now too. Fingers crossed!”
Meanwhile, the England prop Ben has signed a new long-term deal with Chiefs. As an academy graduate, he has spent his entire career with the club and is one of the few remaining ‘originals’ who helped see Chiefs into the Premiership in 2010.
As a one-club man, he had been awarded a testimonial year, but the events had to be cancelled too and they cannot be rebooked until the next set of fixtures are released and life is slightly more normal.
“I feel so sorry for the committee. They have worked so hard. The plan is to run it next season.
“Until then, I am just lucky that I am able to play for a club that is so close to my friends and family.”