Plucking up courage! Butcher”s boy Narraway is chasing England glory
Whatever the stresses and strains of captaining Gloucester – and there have been plenty this season – Luke Narraway will be out and about on Christmas Eve, delivering turkeys on behalf of the family butcher”s shop in nearby Worcester.
No matter how intense the desire to resurrect his club”s faltering season and force his way back into the England ranks for the Six Nations, there will be other business to attend to. It acts as a useful outlet from the chosen profession and the28-year-old has as much of a passion for it as he does for his rugby.
Leading man: Gloucester captain Luke Narraway
“From the age of five I was in the butcher”s shop copying my dad, trying to gut a turkey or whatever,” he said. “It”s something I go back to every week and as he gets older it”s something I”ll get more involved in. I don”t cut any meat now but it keeps me busy.”
Several Gloucester team-mates have ordered turkeys from the Narraways but while festive birds are the focus at present, the future lies in pies. Luke plans to talk to his employers about selling “rugby pies” at games, with a view to expanding that concept in time to earn a catering contract at the next World Cup. They are quite fond of a chant in the Shed at Kingsholm, so some day soon it may have to be: “Who made all the pies” – aimed at the skipper.
Narraway will lead Gloucester into a home Heineken Cup tie against Connacht this afternoon hoping that victory in the reverse fixture in Galway last weekend will be the catalyst for a dramatic revival, after a slump of six defeats in seven games. Now, even if quarter-final qualification from a pool dominated by Toulouse looks unlikely, the aim is to establish precious momentum prior to a return to domestic duties on Boxing Day.
Having deputised as captain in the regular absence of Mike Tindall last season, Narraway has the job full time now and he admits it has its ups and downs in such a hotbed of the game.
Feel the force: Luke Narraway on the charge for Gloucester
“Last season, I saw the pros of the captaincy,” he said. “I lifted a cup, we went on an unbeaten run – it”s incredible to have thousands of people supporting you like that. This season there has been more pressure because we haven”t had the form we would hope for, especially at home. I just have to take the rough with the smooth.
“I live in Gloucester so I see a lot of supporters around town and you do get lots of remarks. I might be picking up some groceries and someone will say, “Any chance of you sorting it out this week”. But you generally don”t get too much abuse, it”s more humour.
“It matters to people in Gloucester whether we win or lose. A lot of people in the city live and breathe Gloucester rugby and that”s something we are well aware of.”
Having joined the club from school a decade ago, Narraway feels accepted as a bona fide Gloucester man now, in a place where that local identity is important. Yet former team-mate Ryan Lamb, who was born there but now plays for Northampton after a stint at London Irish, always calls him “Plastic Gloucester”.
“It is home to me now,” said Narra-way, whose father Ian played for Worcester. “I”ve been here for 10 years. It”s all that I know, but I still can”t quite say I”m a true Gloucester boy because I wasn”t born here and because Lamby would be straight on the phone calling me plastic! He can”t talk – he”s had more clubs than Tiger Woods.”
The sense of belonging which is evidently important to Narraway came to the surface in a different context during the summer. He led England against the Barbarians in lateMay, only to miss out on a place in the preliminary 45-man World Cup squad. Leicester”s Kiwi No 8, Thomas “the Tank Engine” Waldrom, was promoted after discovering an English gran.
A frustrated tweet by Narraway read: “Good luck to Thomas the Tank and his English nan. #notbittermuch.”
Months later, he is eager to clarify that he had injured his back, so didn”t expect to be included. Nevertheless, as someone who would play as a child with his socks rolled down, pretending to be Dean Richards and dreaming of representing England, Narraway makes some valid observations on the thorny issue of nationality.
“I felt bad for guys like Phil Dowson (Northampton back-rower who also missed the cut),” he said. “I really rate him, I”ve played with him, he was in the mix in the Six Nations but didn”t get a cap and then he didn”t make the 45-man squad in the summer. It”s a professional game, I understand there are players who weren”t born in England who will play for England and I”ve got no issue with that. But, speaking as an England fan, I would like to have seen them prove themselves in the Saxons before they were put straight into the senior squad. Put them in the Churchill Cup, see how they go and if they do well, promote them.
“It”s not just about ambitions that have developed in the last few years. A lot of us grow up dreaming of playing for England. But then look at Manu Tuilagi (born in Samoa) who is one of the hottest prospects in international rugby.
“We tend to put people from the southern hemisphere on a pedestal. I think that sometimes, guys who have played Super 15 get a reputation because no-one in the English game really knows what that competition is all about.
“Don”t get me wrong, sometimes that view is justified, but sometimes it isn”t.”
It was Stuart Lancaster, then coach of the Saxons, who named Narraway as captain against the Barbarians last summer. Now he is in charge of Six Nations selection as interim national head coach.
With James Haskell away on what amounts to a Test sabbatical -playing in Japan and New Zealand – and Nick Easter unlikely to be around at the next World Cup, the Gloucester captain must have a strong chance of a recall.
But for now he is determined to banish any thoughts of an England return, with some timely assistance from the festive turkey trade.