The Hugh Gumbs interview…
When we meet Hugh at Weetwood this Tuesday, he is organising a training session for the Women’s Rugby team. “We’re all one club now”, he tells us proudly. Gumbs see this as his major achievement since he came to University rugby, uniting all the rugby sides under one banner for the first time. In an insightful and honest interview, Gumbs reveals all about the University’s rugby programme, how his teams won a Varsity clean sweep and what his favourite night at the Union is…
Could you first give us a brief summary of your career?
I started in local rugby, lucky enough to be picked up by Widnes, and then did all the normal things you do in rugby. Playing Rugby League and Rugby Union, ended up coming back to Rugby Union. And then played locally but broke my leg for the third time. I had to retire in 2003/4.
Did you have any particular career highlights?
I hate talking about my career. Of course there were loads but they are gone now. But I was able to represent my country so that was all good and wonderful and something to look back on now and again. But dwelling on it, or thinking about it now, it’s in the past really.
What does it mean to win Varsity for the second year running?
It’s a funny thing really, it’s a friendly with meaning. When I came here people thought I was bonkers, talking about the fact that we were going to beat them. They had some good players. It’s about having the arrogance and the confidence to say ‘I don’t think any team is unbeatable’. It was just about putting the effort in and getting organised really. Making sure people came here to play rugby as well as study and I don’t think we advertise that enough. We are doing things now that we weren’t normally expected to do. The 2nd team having 14 men and winning against their 2nd team. We’ve never done that before. The 3rd team blowing them out of the water by 40-odd points. We’ve never done that before. The 1st team winning by a massive margin, we’ve never done that before.
How important is the atmosphere, how do the players respond to that?
It’s a challenge for the players, it’s about challenging themselves. The crowd make it a great occasion – the people who come out to watch and they have their families there as well. So that’s a special moment in their careers which they’ll remember. Not many people play in an atmosphere like that. Even the current Carnegie side don’t get a crowd like that. Some of the current Super League teams don’t get that. Playing in front of that crowd is a rarity for most players. But the whole atmosphere, the whole occasion is huge and it’s important to have that rivalry between the two clubs but it’s also about having a winner of it all and being able to say you are the number one in the city. So for us that’s a landmark day where we can say, ‘We beat you. Fair and square, and we are number 1’.
And you both had the same time to prepare?
They had longer than us! And they continue to have longer than us. I mean look, this is a great University, you have to get decent grades to get in here. Not just lolling around on a certificate course. You’ve got to have a decent degree level. They’re not on a level playing field. Years ago one of their players was taking a Spanish qualification and he was going in half a day a week and was playing rugby the rest of the time. For me, it’s great being around now, although we are not on a level playing field with those guys who have got Cs and Ds and Es, we’ve got guys who are on As and Bs. It makes things a little harder for us, but so what? We’re the winners.
How would you describe yourself as a coach?
(Laughs) I think the players would describe me as… I don’t know, a crazy fool! We’ve got a great atmosphere in the club.I suppose I’d say I am fun to be around, and yeah committed to the cause, and at times there is some straight talking. But the most important thing is these guys leave with an education. So that they enjoy there time with the coach really, I’m more then happy to have fun. I mean characters make a rugby club, and we have a lot of them here. And its great being a part of that here. I mean the university inventing a club like Fruity, I mean whoever invented that, needs a doctorate.
How can you not have fun in a place like that?
Can University sport be a springboard to professional rugby? We’re lucky here, we’ve got players who are now playing and trainingfor Leeds. We had the calibre of player before, we’ve got a pathway that leads to the professional rugby. In terms of rugby, unfortunately there is too much money involved, in terms of the professional game.
Are there any particularly special players in this group?
A lot of special players in this group. It’s not about identifying particular players out of this group, when its about having that team ethos, that team culture which we have talked about all along. I mean we have fresher’s in the side who’ve played their part. We’ve got 2nd years and 3rd year players. There is a captain but there are other leaders in different ways.
What are your expectations for the season?
I keep saying it, where we want to be, and what we want to do. But it’s up to the players, where they want to take us. And it’s having that environment where players want to achieve as much as they can. Not having any doubts about what they’ve done or thinking about what could have happened if we had put just a little more effort. We don’t want to do that, we want to be doing the best we can be and going as far as we can. As for last year we reached the quarter final, lost to Bristol, which was disappointing. 18 chances and we blew them all. Those senior players who have left came back for Varsity and that’s a good thing about the club. And they have regrets. We don’t want to have those regrets. I don’t want to be here next year talking to you saying I won varsity but I have regrets. I just want to do what we should be doing, going to Twickenham, that’s what we should be doing. You said ‘we are all one big club now’.
Can you elaborate on that?
When I came here it was ridiculous! We had rugby union men’s with the equipment was very little for the girls, women’s rugby. Medics with their own kit bits and bats. And they all trained on different nights, different places, all paying different coaches, it was just ridiculous. We’re all doing the same sport, and yet we couldn’t all join together. So in my time here, moved them closer together. Now we have the medics together, first time ever the whole, the club is together. So we train together on a Monday, and all the coaches are the same. We are one club and we have a one club ethos. But it means we don’t have this stupid situation of competition, And yet we are the same university, that we had previously before. The men’s rugby club don’t have any difficulty with the Men’s hockey club, we’re not in competition with men’s hockey at Leeds. We support men’s hockey. Our challenge is Durham, our challenge is Bristol, our challenge is Nottingham. And they are the rugby club we want to be aiming at and having a go at. If we can help hockey, if we can help tennis, if we can help any other club that is what we will do, here at the university. To make sure that here at Leeds is the best club. That’s what we want to do, through the clubs being together means that we are sharing equipment, sharing coaches, sharing knowledge. And most of all creating an environment where people want to come to, which is good. That is the most important thing, that we are keeping people safe. Out of it all they may become good friends and may help each other in future, with opportunities. The most important thing is to make sure the club is working together in the same sport and with whoever is playing other sports at the university. That may want our help and we are more then willing to give it.