Interview with Alex Newberry LI Prop 1970's-80's

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Interview with Alex Newberry LI Prop 1970's-80's

by PaulHP on Mon Sep 18, 2006 6:56 pm

Neal Hatley will have to carry on playing for London Irish for about another 6 years to get any way near to Alex Newberry’s appearances for London Irish. He played approximately 400 games for London Irish first team (when the RFU would allow him!), and now his sons are doing their bit for the Geese and the Colt’s.

Here is his interview:

J.A. Newberry 1980 Cup Final Programme

What is your date of birth/place of birth? 11th July 1948 in Belfast

When/where did you start to play rugby? When I was 11 Boys Model Secondary School Belfast

Have you always played Prop? Started as full back and progressed to prop via wing forward

When did join London Irish and how many games did you play? 1970. No one kept records in those days so I can’t be definitive. I played approx 10 games in my first season deputising for Al Moroney who was a regular for Leinster, Surrey and others. Al suffered an injury that kept him out for a considerable time and I took over, playing consistently for the first team until about 1984, (Apart from an enforced rest thanks to the Gentlemen of Surrey) I played my final game against Sale in the cup at 40 years of age I reckon with tours etc around 400 first team appearances

How many points did you score in your London Irish days? Haven’t a clue not a lot

What brought you to London Irish? Are there any other clubs? Also there was a strong link between my old club CIYMS because of Ken Kennedy, Roy Crawford and others.

Who was the coach? In those days the Captain was largely responsible for team play. We had a brief flirtation in the early seventies with a formal coach in the person of Tony Davies an ex-All Black fullback, and with John Hunter for a season and of course Pat Parfrey who took us to the cup final, and indeed he started as a player coach.

If you didn't have a coach how was the team picked? In the early days a magnificent committee met in the Cumberland Stores Pub in the West End and if selected you received a card by post. From about 73 the Captain/coach held sway advised by the committee.

Who was the Captain(s)? I had the privilege of being captained by some of the great names in Irish Rugby - Al Moroney, Ken Kennedy and latterly John O’Driscoll to name but three

What was the training like? The training was fierce and set piece training always took the form of head to head confrontation with the Geese, after a Kennedy scrummaging session everything else was easy. Having said that Mick Molloy introduced us to Aerobics to music at RAF Chessington, which was a revelation, this was around 73/74, and Ken Kennedy who was always in peak condition himself introduced us to yoga to increase suppleness and flexibility, watching props of my shape trying to get into some of these positions was a sight to behold

Who was your most difficult opponent? I played against most of the noted props of my era and seemed to survive but every prop meet his nemesis; mine was Will Dickinson at Richmond. I give nothing away but when I saw Will’s name on the Richmond Team Sheet I new I wouldn’t be charging around the park that day, my bread would be earned in the tight.

What was Sunbury like in your time playing there? Every rugby man is immensely attached to his home ground, but Sunbury always had a special magic about it, to the extent that English Teams playing in London against other opposition often stopped into Sunbury before hitting the motorway especially when Fitzie’s Bar was still standing. Games there were great craic and well attended as opposition supporters enjoyed visiting also. We tried to give the warmest of welcomes on and off the Park

What was your favourite away ground? I thoroughly enjoyed visiting all the top clubs, but I have particularly fond memories of visiting Old Deer Park in the great days of London Welsh when they could field seven British Lions, immense crowds, great rugby and a great sing-song in the Bowls club afterwards before heading to the Bunch of Grapes

Who do you consider was the best player you played with for London Irish? What a question, I played with the McKibbens, Bresnahan, Kennedy, Molloy, Moroney, Beringer, Les White and many more, but if pinned down and being a prop Ken Kennedy was exemplary, 45 caps and 2 Lions Tours speak for themselves.

Who where the characters at London Irish in your time playing? They are many and their activities legendary but to name but a couple my mate Tommy joy who could smoke and drink with both hands played wing forward and prop for the first team (Until I told the skipper his real age) and Des Egan who lead the B XV was one of the clubs great raconteurs

Do you still keep in contact with any of your old team-mates? A great many yes

You played in the 1980 Cup Final, what are your memories of that day? A lot of it didn’t stick, we had lunch in the Winning Post before going to the Twickenham, The crowd were amazing Irish supporters had travelled from all over the world I believe the crowd was counted at 33thousand. We played well against a very fine Leicester side who were worth their victory and needless to say we partied into the “wee” hours. A piece of trivia for you I believe we were the only side not to concede a try in the cup competition and not win the trophy

How good was the London Irish side you played in?(or) Which season had the strongest team? I believe we were a very fine side. The team had generated a momentum over the preceding couple of seasons culminating in the cup final in 80. We had back-to-back wins over Pontypool and Pontypridd at Sunbury and nobody got a free ride from us. The team I joined in 70 had remained undefeated for virtually two seasons loosing only a few games, but I believe the Cup team would have the edge.

The professional London Irish team is no longer a team for Irish/ Irish descent players, what are your feelings about this? I think the pros do a great job, its obvious they have absorbed the culture and heritage generated over the last hundred years and present themselves as exiles as we did, you only need to look at the support on the terraces to understand where their heart lies. More power to them.

Do you miss playing for London Irish? Immensely! No matter how long, your playing career is fleeting

Do you have a favourite story from your playing days? Abridged version I remember changing at Gloucester with the crowd in the stand stamping their feet above our heads with cries of “come on gloss” echoing down to us. Youngsters like myself were getting steamed up and prowling the dressing room. The Captain and pack leader was Ken Kennedy who was completely calm and last to change, a few moments before going out he rallied the pack and calmed us down, he then reached out with his hand and said “today we are going to pluck another English Rose” the rose plucked he cut the pack loose and do you know - we did exactly that.

Did you go on any overseas tours with London Irish? Quite a few at all levels even to Nigeria on a cultural exchange tour; the tours and stories blend until you not sure what story belongs to which tour.

How difficult was it for London Irish to put out a XV on Inter-provincial weekends? It could be a problem rarely did we have strength in depth.

Did you ever play for an Irish Province (if so which one?) No, but played for Surrey against the provinces

Did you ever play Inter-provincial rugby one day and for LI the next? It was not unusual for our international players to fly back for cup matches be it after an international or provincial Game
Personally on one occasion I played for London Irish in a club game Saturday, London Irish XV against Connought on Sunday and Surrey Connought on the Wednesday. I was not excused training.

When did you stop playing? I ended my playing career with the vets in 95 at the age of 47

Do you still have your Honours tie? Absolutely! a prized possession

Did you play for any other clubs? CIYMS Belfast, Public School Wanderers

Where you ever capped at International level (at any age group)? No

Did you play County rugby, if so who for? I started my county career with Hampshire in the early 70’s moving to Surrey for the rest of my playing career, culminating in a tour to Zimbabwe in 85

Who different was County rugby compared to playing for London Irish? All rugby players benefit from playing outside their club environment you learn a lot, as often you have to play to a different style with players who have different strengths to those of your club mates. It usually is great fun particularly if the rugby testing. But there is no place like home

Who was your biggest influence on your rugby-playing career? Ken Kennedy

Do you still watch rugby? Yes both my sons are involved in the amateur club, one on the Geese and my youngest son Tom on the colts

Are you still involved in rugby? I still do a bit of coaching if asked.

When was the last time you attended a London Irish match? I was at the Double Header, and watched the “A” Game against Bristol. I watch the Amateurs most weekends (Golf permitting)

Sunbury or Reading, which do you prefer? Sunbury

In your opinion should London Irish build their own ground? Ultimately I see no other option, though I fear for the amateurs in such a scenario

Has your old position changed since you played? Most assuredly, the science of scrummaging has been replaced by hit and run tactics which I believe can be counter productive, it’s the greatest wheeze the Southern Hemisphere has ever perpetrated on us

Which modern day player would you have liked to play with? Anthony Foley, That pick-up on our own line when Ireland beat South Africa!

Do you prefer the rugby of today or when you played? The modern game played at full pace and passion (Munster) is magnificent

Are there any rules you would like to see changed? The scrum badly need addressing, It seems to me when trying to “de-power the scrum” the legislators got it wrong. This is an important part of the game and although there are dangers posed by playing rugby in any position, Scrummaging is not as dangerous as some would have us believe. However this is at least a 4-pint discussion

Your son Alex Jnr. is currently playing for the Geese, who is the better player you or him? Alex possesses skill, perception, pace, balance and passion, But he can’t scrimmage

What is your occupation? Business Development Manager

Can you give a brief resume of your career? Joined ABC Banyard (part of the Banyard Group) April 2006 to develop the maintenance division The Banyard Group of Companies comprises an Engineering Commissioning and validation practice, a M & E Design Practice a Maintenance Division and e permits division (Web based Permit to work System)

Started work 1964 as Electrician (Harland & Wolff Belfast) Controls Engineer, Commissioning Engineer, Operations manager Sales Engineer (Johnson Control Systems) Proposals manager (Skanska)
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by AlecW on Tue Sep 19, 2006 7:27 am

Bleddy good, as always!
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by Loobs on Tue Sep 19, 2006 1:13 pm

Head to Sunbury pretty much every weekend and I'm sure Alex will let you buy him a beer :)
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by dom_pedro on Tue Sep 19, 2006 9:06 pm

Many thanks as always.

Maybe that pint at Sunbury could turn into a 4-pint discussion about scrimmaging (I'd manage about a 1/3rd of a pint though).
This cruel country has driven me down, teased me and lied.
I've only sad stories to tell to this town
My dreams have withered and died.
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