Interview with Mansell Heslip (LI vice-captain 1969-70)

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Interview with Mansell Heslip (LI vice-captain 1969-70)

by PaulHP on Thu May 11, 2006 4:04 pm

Mansell Heslip

Mansell Heslip was vice-captain of London Irish in the late 60’s/early 70’s. He is now a Consultant in Doncaster.

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What is your date of birth/place of birth? 5/10/1945

When/where did you start to play rugby? Started playing rugby as a schoolboy at Cabin Hill Prep School in 1956

What position did you play? Scrum Half

When did you join London Irish and how many games did you play? Joined London Irish January 1968. I'm sorry I don't know how many games I played but I played from January 1968 to end of season 1971.

How many points did you score in your London Irish days? Sorry don't know how many points I scored.

What brought you to London Irish? I was asked by the club Secretary (whose name I cannot remember) to join London Irish in January 1968 as I had just played in the Varsity Match for Cambridge and as I was due to graduate from Cambridge in the summer of 1968 I was unable to continue playing for Cambridge as they immediately commenced rebuilding for the subsequent Varsity Match in 1968 by which time I was going to be at St.Bartholomew's Hospital.

What was the training like? When I first joined Irish training was somewhat erratic but as time went on it became more organised and attendance at training at Sunbury and the Duke of Yorks Barracks became almost compulsory. You must remember getting to Sunbury was pretty difficult and players were coming from all over the place to play for Irish. You mention Andy Higginson he was actually travelling from Plymouth!

Who was the coach at London Irish? We didn't have a coach. 'Coaching' was performed by the players under the direction of the captain at the time. (It was the same when I played for Cambridge University).

Who were the captain(s) of London Irish in your time there? Captains were Billy Doyle and Ollie Waldron

Who was your most difficult opponent? The most difficult opponent I can recall was someone I played against in Northern Ireland called Andy Crawford. He was a wing forward for Dungannon and gave me a right going over in my very first 'senior' rugby match for CIYMS at the opening of a new pavilion at CIs sports ground in Belfast.

Where was your favourite away ground? Whilst playing with London Irish I think my favourite away ground was Old Deer Park. Probably because London Welsh were so powerful in those days the following they had was enormous and the atmosphere was great.

What was Sunbury like in your time playing there? Sunbury was like most rugby grounds in those days. It consisted of a 1st XV pitch at one side of Sunbury with a hugely long stand most of the length of one side of the pitch. The rest was pretty open with other pitches next door. Of course at one end of the 1st XV pitch in a corner was Fitzy's bar. I will always remember the huge communal bath at Sunbury. Usually by the time we had finished playing most of the other teams had already been in and bathed so the water was filthy and we usually had to have showers which weren't the greatest.

Did you spend any time in Fitzy's bar? If so do you have any stories? We used to use Fitzy's bar to change in when training. Even O'Reilly used to change there having his kit brought in by his driver having arrived in his chauffeur driven Mercedes.

Who do you consider was the best player you played with for London Irish? There were many very good players that I played with at Irish. Such as Ken Kennedy, Mick Molloy, Barry Bresnihan but probably the best was O'Reilly who made a return to rugby when working in England after many years away from the game and even then he still showed some signs of what a good player he must have been at his peak. However the best player I ever played with and it was not for London Irish must undoubtedly be Michael Gibson - he was magnificent in everything he did and made those who played with him feel ten times the player they were when not playing with him.

Who where the characters at Sunbury in your time playing? The character I will always remember from Sunbury was C. Breeze. Claimed to be a poet whose main claim to fame was that he had T.S.Elliot's false teeth. C. Breeze used to get drunk every match and compose a poem about the days game which he would recite in the bar.

If professionalism had been introduced in the 1960-70’s would you have turned pro? I find it very hard to answer such a question. If it had been possible to continue my medical studies and play professionally then yes but I think that would not be possible.

Do you still keep in contact with any of your old team mates? I haven't seen any of those with whom I played for many many years. Unfortunately.

The professional London Irish team is no longer a team for Irish/ Irish descent players, what are your feelings about this? It's no longer really London Irish as it was when I played. Every player in the 1971 side that I played for was born in Ireland. In the four years that I was at London Irish about the only person who played for the 1st XV who was not born in Ireland was a cockney named Con O'Mahoney! Rugby is now a different game and London Irish are now a professional club the name is just a means of identification bearing very little relationship to Ireland although they still have a large Irish following and I hope that continues.

Do you miss playing for London Irish? I had a great time playing for London Irish but time moves on. I was very sad to have to stop playing in 1971 but I qualified as a doctor that year and went to work in Luton working alternate nights and weekends as well as ordinary days, Since there were only two doctors doing the job I was doing if I wanted to play rugby the other chap would have had to work every weekend and that wasn't possible. So my rugby career ended.

How good was the London Irish side you played in?(or) Which season had the strongest team? The side I played in in 1970/71 was very powerful. We had a front row of Al Moroney, Ken Kennedy and Ollie Waldron. Mick Molloy was in the second row. Billy Doyle and Kevin Lavelle were in the back row. Iwas scrum half with Johnny Moroney at out-half with Barry Bresnihan and Alan Docherty in the centre and O'Reilly was on one wing. Our last game of the season I think was against London Welsh who had umpteen stars who went to New Zealand with the Lions and we beat them. Wonderful end to a career!

Did you play for any other Irish/English clubs? I played for CIYMS in Belfast in the early sixties and whilst a Medical Student in London I played for St.Bartholomew's Hospital in the Hospitals Cup competition. I also played for United London Hospitals, an invitation side called Public School Wanderers which was great fun and finally for the Middlesex county side.

Did you go on any over-sea's tours? I went to France with Middlesex and to USA with London Irish.

Did you win any honours? The only honour I won was a blue at Cambridge and I was a travelling reserve for Ulster understudying Roger Young.

How difficult was it for London Irish to put out a XV on Inter-provincial weekends? Players playing in interprovincial matches was a bit of a nuisance but we had been used to frequent changes of players. I don't think it was all that difficult to put out teams on those weekends although our form undoubtedly suffered.

You won a Cambridge Blue what are your memories of the Varsity match? My memories of the Varsity match are mainly of the noise as we ran onto the field. Apart from that and the two scores - a try in the corner early on by John Spencer and a penalty kick in the second half by our fullback John Anthony the game was over in a flash and we'd won. What I do remember however was the press afterwards. We thought we played well and everything went to plan because we had intended playing a pretty tight game because Oxford had a back-row of Tommy Bedford, Tony Bucknall and I think Peter Dixon a trio we were not going to allow to make hay in the loose. However the press thought we were terrible and that it was a terrible game and a terrible example of University rugby. However WE WON! Cambridge won 6-0


Do you still watch rugby? I still watch some rugby especially Ireland. I went to Paris in February with my wife (Who is Welsh) to watch France v Ireland. Last summer I, again with my wife, went to New Zealand to watch the Lions v All Blacks and I have tickets for the Heineken Cup Final (again with my wife but this time accompanied by my son and his wife).

When was the last time you attended a London Irish match? I haven't seen a London Irish match since 1974

Has your old position changed since you played? I certainly think my old position has changed a bit. Firstly the ball is different and is very much easier to pass and catch. Nowadays the standing pass is the norm whereas in my day the dive pass was the norm although Ken Catchpole from Australia showed how the standing pass could be used and this was followed by Chris Laidlaw introducing the spin pass which almost everyone employs today. But as I say it was much more difficult to pass the old leather ball especially if it was wet and greasy (frequently it was like a bar of soap). Also the scrum half doesn't have the same pressure upon him at scrummages because the opposition scrum half cannot put his foot into the scrum if the ball is not out. When I played you followed the ball around the scrum and when it got to the number eight tried to kick it out or kicked it away when the opposition scrum half tried to pick it up. Forwards are much much bigger now so I would expect much more difficult to stop compared to my day and of course everyone if much stronger in the upper body so they are more adept at ripping the ball off the opposition.

Which modern day player would you have liked to play with? I would like to play with O'Driscoll, he reminds me so much of Mike Gibson.

Do you prefer the rugby of today or when you played? I think rugby of today has more continuity to it but there does not seem to be the same skillful back play that there was in days gone by - especially in England. Everything seems to be based upon tiring out the opposition and then creating either backs against forwards of outnumbering the opposition wherever the ball is.

Are there any rules that you would like to see changed? I must say I find it hard to keep up with some of the changes in the Laws of the game but I can't think of any I would want changed.

What was/is your occupation? I am a Gynaecologist.

Can you give a brief resume of your career? I qualified in 1971. Worked in a variety of different jobs before deciding I wanted to become an Obstetrician and Gynaecologist. Worked as a junior doctor in Obs and Gynae in Cambridge, Newmarket, Leicester, Nottingham, Mansfield, Saudi Arabia and Derby before being appointed a consultant In Obstetrics and Gynaecology in 1985 at Doncaster Royal Infirmary where I am still working though only as a part-time gynaecologist because two years ago I had a heart attack.

You are mentioned in a Rugby World article from 1969, what are your memories of the players mentioned in it? http://london-irish.co.uk/viewtopic.php?t=718 Of the people in Peter McMullan's article I remember all of them well. John Moroney was a wonderful kicker of a rugby ball. He was unusual in those days in that he place kicked soccer style (round the corner) when most kickers kicked straight on with the toe. Totally different today. Ollie Wladron captained the side that I played in in 69/70 and 70/71 ald at that time I was vice captain. Ollie played for Oxford when I played for Cambridge in the Varsity Match. In that game he played in the second row whereas in 71 he played for Irish as a front row forward. Ollie had the distinction of having had a bit of his ear bitten off when playing for Oxford against Australia in 66. Ollie was instrumental in introducing discipline into how we trained and played and really built on the tremendous work that had been done in previous years by Billy Doyle his predecessor as captain. Billy was captain when I first arrived at London Irish and used to meet me at Kensington tube station to give me a lift to Sunbury when I came down to play from Cambridge. Nicky Jones I knew in Belfast before coming to England. He was teaching at Hurst Pierrepoint having been to Oxford. Great character Nick. Andy Higginson was another player I had known in Northern Ireland. It was amazing the effort Andy made to play rugby for London Irish. Travelling every weekend from Plymouth where he was stationed with the Fleet Air Arm. Pat Lavery was a smashing bloke. Very quiet but very talented. Gay Cronnolly was way before his time used to love to spend time in Spain. In fact I think he would have preferred to spend all winter in Spain in the sun. A good all action back-row forward. Good talker too.
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by dom_pedro on Thu May 11, 2006 7:53 pm

Great interview Paul. Thanks.
Even O'Reilly used to change there having his kit brought in by his driver having arrived in his chauffeur driven Mercedes.

Would that be known as "Living the life of O'Reilly" then? One can only dream can't one?
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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by AlecW on Fri May 12, 2006 7:26 am

'kin hell - that is some back row Oxford had!

Tommy Bedford, Tony Bucknall and Peter Dixon - yikes! Bucknall is an old pal of my boss and is still HUGE - played for England several times. Bedford captained the Springboks and is a legend in his own right. Dixon was a Lion in 1971 and scored a try in the decisive 4th Test...

Wow!

Paul - another cracking interview. Many thanks.
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