Christian Day: The Changing Rooms


The rugby changing room. The darkest of pits. Mysterious rituals take place here. Strange smells emanate from its depths. Men (and women) collect to ready themselves for battle. Only the warriors within know what goes on…

Well, that used to be true before some TV bright spark decided that whacking a camera right in the middle of this sanctuary would be a good idea.

Indeed, this mass intrusion of privacy has led to a game I quite like to play, involving my pants coming off just as the roving camera enters the room. Somewhat juvenile, but tends to mean that he dashes off in another direction looking for his pre match fodder, rather than lingering anywhere near me.

He doesn’t want to see me anyway. He would much rather film  George as he looks bored of the attention or Courtney as he has a pre match snooze. The introduction of this camera actually led to some ground rules needing to be set with the broadcasters after Freddie Burns’ dismay at missing a game winning kick was broadcast for a little too long. Leave the lad in peace if he’s missed one…

The changing room is a very different place on game day. Through the week it is a jovial place. A constant source of stories and banter. A good place to be.

On weekends, it takes on a whole different feel. Now it is business. The business of winning. Winning usually comes at a cost. The changing room is where you prepare yourself to pay the price.

Every player is different, but after 17 years of playing in the professional game, I’ve just about seen it all. You have laid back players, stressed players, superstitious players, organised players, angry players. Players who preen, players who are distracted.

The important thing is that the player gets himself ready. If he does that, then within reason, he can do pretty much what the hell he wants - provided he is ready come game time. The period before going out for team warm up is to be used as the player sees fit. He needs to get dressed (difficult for some) and get out onto the pitch for a set time when the team will assemble.

Some teams will pump out their music. Gloucester seem to have poor taste. Sale also seem hell bent on reviving techno. Saints don’t have music; our hierarchy prefer headphones. Players look cooler and I can listen to some Duran Duran in peace.

Many players will join the extensive queue for a physio to apply copious amounts of tape to an aching joint or three. This system is further complicated by only certain physios being trusted by a certain fussy player who has to have his ankle strapped by Dave, but his wrist strapped by Bob. It would be easier to do a bit of Quantum Theory than decipher the queuing order.

I place around 50 per cent of this tape job as placebo. My mum once asked me what was wrong with my legs for me to constantly have to tape them up. I reassured her that the tape around my legs was for the props to grip, not to hold my thighs together. Got to love mums…

The referee will come in and say a few words. Something along the lines of “don’t worry lads, I’m not going to screw you over this week”. The players eye him suspiciously. Heard that one before…

The doctor circulates with his bag of magic potions. “How are you? Are you aware that an angry 19 stone man is about to run into your shoulder? Is it still hanging on by a thread? OK good, here have an aspirin.”

As for myself, I’m quite OCD in the same way that The Queen is a bit posh. I have prepared the same way at Saints for about seven or eight years now. It’s not that I’m superstitious in any way, quite the opposite. But I like to do things my own way, with my own timings set in my head. It means I’m where I need to be by the time that the team is ready to come together. Things are hung up, stuffed in a bag, taped to the wall, everything has its place.

Get ready for war. Out onto the pitch. Dance around a bit. Ready!

Once the team warm up is complete, it’s back inside for the manic five minutes before kick-off. Strip off again, match shirt on. Twenty-three high fives, though I insist on a formal shake of the hand. It is quite amusing that most players recognise this now and don’t even attempt the cool kids version with me. Coaches shout a few words, players shout a few more.


Some other informed pieces of wisdom…

I retreat to my small sanctuary and go over my call sheet. I like to read stuff pre-match. Under the heat on the pitch I need to remember that complex call whilst seven other guys gaze at me expectantly.

Now, this is the point in time when the coaches and subs disappear and it’s just the fifteen players left. This is when the real fun begins. I’ve seen players shout, scream and cry. I’ve seen players throw up, which made other players throw up, into a communal bin of putridness. Players have literally punched themselves in the face, worked themselves into a frenzy that William Wallace would’ve been proud of. Conversely I’ve seen an international stick his feet up, get his iPad out and play a round of Risk, before going on to be MOTM in a televised European Cup game. 

Vas [Vaseline] is smeared on to be slippery, glue is applied to be sticky, hair is adjusted to be cool, pants are adjusted to be comfortable.

One final chat as a 15; huddled as one. Let’s do this together. A knock at the door.

We are ready. Let’s Go To War!