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One man and his scrum

The instruction "touch, pause, set" rings out across the Worcester training ground. Phil Vickery prowls around, looking, watching, thinking. A notebook and pen poke out of a pocket in his baggy shorts.

As the forwards yet again crash into a scrum machine, catapulting it backwards, Vickery in turn cajoles and encourages. A slap on the behind here, a helping hand there. At the completion of each punishing contact, Vickery lets out a piercing whistle. To all intents and purposes, he could be back on the family farm in Cornwall, commanding his dog to round up a herd of cattle. The effect is almost the same. The pack obligingly huddles together.

Two years have passed since his neck finally gave out and surgeons warned him that he had to stop or face the consequences. Since then, he has focused on helping to develop Raging Bull, the sports leisurewear company that he founded, and watched Megan and Harrison, his children grow up, giving them the time at weekends that they were denied when Vickery was in his playing pomp.

He had not sought to coach, at least not immediately. After reluctantly hanging up his boots, he wanted to clear some head space and give himself a break from the sport. Last season he agreed to help out Andy Deacon, his former sparring partner from Gloucester days, who coaches at Cinderford. Then a chance phone call with Richard Hill, the Worcester director of rugby, this summer resulted in the offer of a two-day-a-week, season-long contract helping with the scrum.

It was a perfect opportunity, giving Vickery the chance to find his feet and decide if coaching is really for him. He is in familiar company.

Hill was his first coach at Gloucester, he knows Nigel Redman, the forwards coach of old, and Phil Larder, who runs the defence, was part of the backroom staff for the 2003 World Cup winners, under Sir Clive Woodward.

"I haven't come here saying, 'I am the kiddie, I know it all,' because I don't," Vickery said. "It is very much a work in progress for me. But I think it is a travesty that so many people from my generation don't pass on some knowledge or aren't given the chance to give something back."

Depending upon how this season pans out, he may consider taking his coaching badges. He is speaking at the end of the training session, back in an office at the gleaming Sixways complex that has to be one of the best in the Aviva Premiership, a citadel built and financed by Cecil Duckworth.

Vickery eases himself into a chair and begins a discourse that encompasses myriad topics. He illustrates the discomfort that he is in, the price he has paid for more than 15 years in the front row. He stretches out his arms. The little finger of his left hand is almost bent double. He has constant pins and needles over his upper body and waning strength. "I can't open my hand out," he says. "I have got to see someone about it; can't grip anything. I dropped a bowl at home the other night. Basically I'm f****d! Neither hand is great, but the left's worse."

Despite the problems, he would not have changed a thing and would like nothing more than to be back in the thick of it. Rugby has been his life and remains a way of life. "I may have been a professional, but I am an amateur at heart," he says.

For him local clubs are the bedrock and focal point for rural communities. He articulates his feelings with fervour. "We would all do ourselves a few favours by remembering what a rugby club, Sports clubs, mean to a community," he says. "I don't want to get political about it, but when you hear the stuff about the Big Society, they should start investing some money in areas where people actually do reach into communities and where clubs are the heartbeat." 

Being a straight talker, politics could never be on his agenda. ''You have to say what you think," he says. ''We can all be negative about everything. But we are the envy of the world; Our heritage, our rugby, our stadia, our villages, our architecture, our rivers, our countryside, our technologies, our cities. They're brilliant.

"We all know there are issues. We can all sit and moan, but I am proud of where I come from, my upbringing, where I live. I am proud to sing my national anthem. I do get emotional. I needed it when I played to take it to the next level."

He recalls watching Mo Farah winning his second gold medal, in the 5,000 metres of a remarkable Olympic Games. 

"They did everything to putt him off, and when he hit that final lap round that top bend - I am getting emotional about it now - you have a choice. Go for it or settle for second," he said. "There were tears running down my face. Never met the bloke, probably never will, but tell you what, sir, I take my hat off to you, because I can understand maybe 1 per cent of what he went through."

The conversation then turns naturally to England. His place in the country's rugby firmament is assured. "I am a bit of a hermit," he says. "I sometimes see a few of the old boys. When I see someone from '03, the hairs still go up on the back of the neck." England now? "They are in a good place. Stuart [Lancaster, the head coach] has done a great job. He has made a clear statement of what is expected when playing for your country. Credit to the guy, credit to the RFU for having the balls to appoint him. The success of England teams of old wasn't about the 15 blokes on the field; it was about the other 15 who were champing at the bit to get on the field. I can see that again now."

His respect for Woodward runs deep. "What have we got in common?" he says. "Bugger all, on the face of it. But he put faith in me, identified me as being somebody he could potentially do something with.

 "All I had to do was listen and work hard. I would run through brick walls for that bloke. I don't begin to understand the RFU set-up, but for him not to be involved at Twickenham is a real travesty. How? Where? I don't know. There has got to be something for him. But it doesn't seem to be as easy as that, although it should be."

 

• Vickery's stellar playing career included three World Cups, winning In 2003 and a finalist in 2007, two Lions tours and 73 England caps, 15 as captain.

• Played more than 100 league games for Gloucester (1995-2006) and London Wasps (2006-10). Won knockout cup (2003), Heineken Cup (2007), league (2008).

• Forced to retire in 2010 because of neck Injuries requiring three operations.

• Has an Oriental tattoo on his left shoulder, translating to "I'll fight you to the death", and a bulldog on his right.

• Won Celebrity MasterChef in 2011

• Co-founder of Raging Bull – his nickname - Sports and Leisurewear Company more than ten years ago. He is a qualified bull inseminator.