The Matt Hampson Interview

To mark his first year of big-name interviews for IRN, we put Matt in the spotlight to find out how he’s take to the role of journalist, his thoughts on the changes in the game and what 2009 holds in
store for him

IRN: It must be unusual for you to find yourself in the hotseat this month, Hambo. How have you found your first year writing for us?
MATT HAMPSON: It’s been really enjoyable. I’ve done a bit of writing before, doing a column for the Leicester Mercury; it’s fascinating to get an insight into players’ backgrounds and lives away from the pitch.
It’s really good to catch up with the guys and it keeps me in the loop with what’s going on in the game. I’ve been down to the England camp to see Matt Stevens and Andrew Sheridan which was great fun because they play in the same position as I did and it’s interesting to see just what goes into being an England player in the modern game.
This might sound bitter but it actually reminded me of what a boring life professional players have sometimes! Basically sitting around waiting for the next training session.
So it can be a tough life but, at the same time, the fun and camaraderie on the pitch is something I miss the most.

IRN: Which interview have you enjoyed doing the most so far?
MH: I’ve enjoyed them all because every player has been different which is what is so great about the sport - it’s for players of all shapes and sizes from all walks of life. Players have lives away from the pitch, they are not just machines. They have many different interests. Shaun Edwards, for example, was very interested in architecture. And I have tried to reflect that in the interviews.
But if I had to pick one, Johnno [Martin Johnson] was my favourite because of his influence on the game in this country. He’s a legend.

IRN: If you could interview anyone in the sport, who would it be?
MH: I’d love to interview Jonah Lomu. He’s almost the forgotten man of the sport yet if you speak to anyone, even if they don’t follow rugby, they all know his name.
He’s probably the most famous player in the history of the game, especially in terms of the impact he had on the sport. There’s never been anyone like him and I don’t think there will be anyone like him again.

IRN: You are clearly still in love with the game, Matt.
MH: It’s a very different game to the one I played almost four years ago, but I love it, absolutely love it. The modern game can be tough, there’s a lot of travelling and living out of suitcases in hotels which can be quite dull. But until you’ve actually played the game yourself, it’s hard to describe the camaraderie and friendship that you get from the game. I’ve met so many people and contacts through rugby. Before and after my accident, people have been fantastic. It’s like a big family.

IRN: And you are still heavily involved in the sport as well.
MH: That’s right, I write for you guys, I run my own memorabilia website business and I do a bit of coaching which is my favourite thing to do. Oakham School is a one term rugby-playing school so I do it for
part of the year. There is nothing more rewarding than seeing the guys you are coaching improve. When they take what you say on board and you can see the improvement, it’s so satisfying. I’m not a strict taskmaster, though, I prefer to be one of the boys!
I’d like to be a coach in the mould of Graham Rowntree. He knows what he’s talking about when it comes to the scrum and how to help people out. Being England scrummaging coach would be a dream job.

IRN: How do you think the game has changed in the four years since your accident?
MH: To be honest, I don’t think I’d enjoy playing now as much as I did
before because of the ELVs. I think they are in danger of ruining the game. You can’t put a boot on a player to ruck him out of the way and the maul has been made virtually redundant. I know I’m in danger of sounding like a Leicester mute, but I just think they’ve ruined aspects of the game which made rugby so special and such a physical confrontation.
I don’t understand the changes at all. The IRB want to speed up the ruck yet they’ve banned the use of the boot in rucking players out of the way who are slowing the ball down. It makes no sense.

IRN: As a former England Under-21 tighthead prop, Matt, who has impressed you in the front row this season with a view to the Lions tour to South Africa?
MH: Julian White has been phenomenal. It’s been like heaven to watch Julian scrummage this season. I’m glad I never scrummaged against him because he’s a big old unit!
His all-round game’s not brilliant, but as a scrummager he’s worth his weight in gold. It’s difficult being a front row player in the modern game because so much more is expected of you. Scrummaging is exhausting and then you are expected to run around the field from breakdown to breakdown and be a ball carrier as well. I still think it’s the toughest position on the pitch. There’s been more emphasis on the scrum this season than in the last few years.

IRN: What does the new year hold for you?
MH: It’s a massive year for me actually. My dad is currently building my own house and I’ve also got a book coming out. It’s not just about rugby, it’s about my life before and after my accident - good and bad.

IRN: Has it been difficult for you, recalling the memories of the accident in 2005?
MH: Actually, it’s been a really good healing process for me. Some bits are really tough, but it’s been beneficial for me to do. I hope the book will show and portray a person who is getting on with life. I’m in a wheelchair, I’m on a ventilator but I’m living a good life - some aspects of my life are better now than what they were before.
Obviously there are down days, but everyone has good days and bad days, you don’t have to be in a wheelchair to experience that.
There are dark times, but I hope the book portrays what I was like before and after my accident and what it’s like to be a young rugby player as well.
I hope the book does serve as an inspiration to people who have gone through the same sort of thing I have. I want to show people that they can still lead a rich and fulfilling life despite having a spinal injury.
But I also want to show what the implications were of my accident. I want to show young rugby lads that they are not invincible. When you are playing rugby you have it in your head that you are invincible but you aren’t and there are people out there who do have spinal injuries who haven’t been lucky enough to have the support I’ve had. I hope people take on board the implications of having a spinal injury but also that you can live a great life. If just one person reads my book and it helps them in some way then it will have been worthwhile.

IRN: Do you ever regret playing rugby, Matt?
MH: No, not at all, never. I’m so thankful for everything rugby’s given me. It’s a big family and I can’t feel any bitterness towards the sport because it has been such a massive and important part of my life.
Ever since my accident, everyone in the rugby community has been behind me from day one; whatever I needed help with or support, they’ve been there straight away, especially the guys at Leicester, who have been phenomenal.

IRN: So life is good for Matt Hampson at the moment?
Yep, I’ve got my fingers in lots of pies! The website business is going really well, I’m really enjoying what I’m doing and I hope that this year it will really take off.
I’d like to do a bit more coaching and I’m also doing a charity walk to Twickenham, I’ve got all 12 Premiership clubs involved. It’s called Walk For Matt and starts from the canal path in the town of Rugby, the birthplace of the sport, and ends up at Twickenham at the Premiership final on May 16th. Johnno and Lawrence Dallaglio are helping us and we are trying get as many big names and celebrities involved as possible. It’s going to be a lot of fun!