The former England and British Lions scrum-half tells us how his family connection and a pint with Sky Sports colleague Jeff Stelling convinced him to join day six of the March for Men. But he'll be keeping an eye on the current Lions tour while he walks.
How has prostate cancer affected your family?
I lost my dad to prostate cancer. He was 79, a farmer from South Wales, and very, very fit. He was poorly for a year or so, then that was it. Even though he was nearly 80, it does affect you. He was robbed of seeing his grandchildren grow up.
Why did you decide to join Jeff Stelling on his March for Men?
I talked to Jeff over a couple of pints about it last year and wanted to get involved. I recently did a couple of days on the Coast to Coast Walk with some colleagues who were walking for charity, and I think that whetted my appetite. You get the bug. I think it helps if others turn up and help take Jeff’s mind off the seriousness of actually walking 26-odd miles a day for 15 days. It’s going to be hard work for him, but he’ll do it. Anything I can do to gee him on and encourage him is going to be great.
How do you react to the fact that one-in-eight men will get prostate cancer in the UK?
We deal with stats in rugby and football all the time, and those figures are harrowing and eye-opening. It’s up to everyone to go and get themselves checked. Then hopefully, if you have got something, they can sort it out. You’ve got to be responsible not only for yourself, but for your family as well. The more Jeff and others can get that message out, the better.
How long have you known Jeff?
I’ve been working at Sky for 20 years, and Jeff and I bump into each other a fair bit. He’s a phenomenon – it’s just amazing watching him. Seeing him walk ten marathons in ten days last time, I thought ‘well done, good lad’. Now he’s extended it by another five days, so it’s either a weight loss thing or he really just enjoys putting his body through some pain! I have to laugh, as his kids said he used to moan about going to walk the dog, let along anything longer. But it’s great that a celebrity is doing something for the right cause and for the right reasons.
So what can you tell Jeff about the Chester-to-Everton leg you’ll be walking with him?
Oh, it’s the best part of the world. It’s where I live, so it’s fantastic! The camaraderie will be great. There’ll be people out all over the place, whether it’s football or rugby supporters, with a lot of good wishes, I’m sure. It’s a beautiful area – Chester, in particular, with its city walls – then ending up in Liverpool, which has been transformed through developments over the years. So long as it’s nice and dry, that’s all I hope. I don’t want a wet day!
What sort of long-distance walking experience do you have?
To be honest, the longest I’ve probably walked was last year’s Coast to Coast Walk: 22 miles one day, 16 the next. My training now involves going to the gym a couple of times a week and walking the dogs every morning.
England didn’t manage to win back-to-back Grand Slams in the Six Nations this year, but you were in the last team that did in 1991 and 1992. What was it like?
It was great. You get focused quite easily because everyone hates England. Going to Cardiff and up to Scotland, you’ve got to have good support and that’s what we had throughout that campaign. We had bloody good players, too, led by Will Carling, with Jeremy Guscott, Peter Winterbottom, Brian Moore, Wade Dooley… you can go on. It was a different game, then. It was the rule of the fist and the boot – you needed foot soldiers. It’s all turned on its head now, probably for the right reasons.
Will you be keeping an eye on the British Lions while you’re on the March?
The warm up games? Absolutely. It’s one of those mad things: all your life you’re trying to knock ten bells out of each other in your international career when you’re playing against your home countries. Then you’ve got to get together for a two or three-week period, go to the other end of the world and play as a team. It’s not easy at all, even though they’re fantastic individuals. It’s whether they can get out of their pattern they’re playing for Ireland, England, whatever and come together and be able to perform. If the Lions win the series, it would be the greatest Lions victory ever – that’s how good New Zealand are. I think they’ve got a chance if they get it right. That’s why Warren Gatland’s got the biggest headache to select the right guys.