A day with: Former England star Mark Cueto

Matt Jones 19/05/2016
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Cueto with young UAE rugby players.

When sports stars eventually have to hang up their boots, it’s usually with a heavy heart. Not so for former Sale Sharks, England and British & Irish Lion three-quarters Mark Cueto.

It has nothing to do with the fact he had no passion for the game or was only in it for the money – he simply achieved rather a lot.

He played his entire 15-year club career at Sale, earned 55 caps for the Red Rose and was part of the Lions tour to New Zealand in 2005. Along the way he scored a fair amount of tries, won some silverware, and played with and against some of the greats of the game.

The 36-year-old was in the UAE earlier this year coaching youngsters with fellow former players Tom May and Carl Hayman’s Everything 4 Rugby initiative.

You retired at the end of last season. How are you finding it?

I don’t miss the playing. Not one bit. Ultimately if I could play professionally for the rest of my life I’d do it, it’s a dream come true. Realistically you only have so many years. I did 15 and couldn’t be happier with how it went. It was the right time to retire and I did it on my own terms, I wasn’t forced to through injury, and I’ve got loads of things going on, which is great.

You were out in Dubai recently with fellow ex-professionals Tom May and Carl Hayman putting on a camp for kids. What else are you up to?
My bread and butter is working as an ambassador for Sale Sharks. I host matchday hospitality. I still feel a part of the club, so that’s made the transition a lot easier than if I was completely out of the game.

How do you feel about Danny Cipriani’s leaving the club at the end of this season?
Obviously, he’ll be a loss. This was is his third season and he’s been fantastic. He’s our one sprinkle of stardust. He’s a bums on seats type of player. Wasps is his home club, he came through the academy and won stuff there, so you can’t knock him for wanting to go back. They’re a club that really look like they’ve got the potential to go back to those glory days of 10 years ago when they were one of the best teams in Europe.

Let’s talk about England. What a transformation from the World Cup to the Six Nations?
At the start of January, if anyone said, ‘I think England can do the Grand Slam’, people would have laughed at you. You have to give massive credit to Eddie Jones. It’s 99 per cent the same playing squad so it shows how important the main man is and getting the environment and attitude right is. Treating them like men as opposed to schoolkids which was maybe a fault of the old regime.

Jones is a little bit arrogant. Do you think England need that?
The English mentality is mad. We do something great and we don’t celebrate it. If we celebrate we’re arrogant, if we don’t we’re negative. We can’t win. The first glimpse was the Six Nations. We had a good win against Scotland. We were a bit rusty so it would have been so easy to tow the line and say ‘Italy will be tough, they’re a good team’, but he said ‘look I want to go over there and smash them by 30 points’. I thought fair play, he’s not falling into line and doing what the RFU want him to do. It’s refreshing. He says it as it is. There’s no smoke and mirrors with him.

After the Grand Slam and with a young squad touring Australia next month, are you excited?
The tour to Australia won’t be easy so I just hope that if it doesn’t go well we don’t jump on the back of it, he needs time. They’ve done a great job but I think they’ve probably got their sights set a lot higher on where they are at the moment. The average age of that team is mid-20’s. Eddie said that any team who get to the semis or final of a World Cup, their average age is 28-29 so he’s grooming this current squad. It looks like he’s got a four or five year plan in his head.

You look at the youngsters like Mauro Itoje, Elliot Daly, Josh Beaumont, then add to that the boys who seem to have been there a long time, players with 25-30 caps like Owen Farrell, Jonathan Joseph, George Kruis. They’re household names but still only early to mid 20’s so they’re in a really good spot. The big test is Australia. England have only beaten Australia on tour twice in the last 100 years. Eddie will know that and the Aussies are in great form too from the World Cup.

What was your career highlight?
You always remember your debuts. For Sale it was Bristol away. We won and I scored a try. We ended up finishing second in the league, won the Parker Pen Shield and I ended up on an England tour, so it was a pretty good year. Other than that the Premiership final with Sale in 05-06, I scored in that; my debut for England, playing in a World Cup, going on a Lions tour, there’s loads.

Who was the best player you played with?
Jason Robinson, 100 per cent. His speed, power, durability, he was like a Ferrari that never broke down. There’s guys like Jonny Wilkinson, Lawrence Dallaglio, Martin Johnson, legends of the game, but for all-round ability, he was just incredible. He could skin you in a phonebox.

Cueto's England record

  • Tests: 55
  • Points: 100
  • Tries: 20
  • W: 29 L: 25 D:1

What about the best you ever played against?
Shane Williams for Wales. I always hated playing against him. I would rather play against a big guy who tries to run at or around you and you know what they’re doing.

Luckily I never had to play against Robbo but Shane was as close as I probably got. Shane was just incredible. A small guy in such a physical game, for two guys like that to achieve what they achieved was amazing. Shane scored a ridiculous amount of tries (58 in 87 games), that’s wild, it’s like schoolboy stats.

What was is like being a part of that Lions tour to New Zealand?
It’s a shame because that one tour was the only tour that’s been run unlike a Lions tour. I think Clive (Woodward) got it wrong. Usually it’s a 31-32-man squad, he picked over 40, and we were split from the start, the midweek team and the Test team, and it was very much them and us. We were unbeaten midweek but we never won a Test. It’s massive to play for your country but to make a Lions tour and to have one of those shirts hanging on the wall back home is amazing.

You scored a try in the 2007 World Cup final but it was disallowed and you went on to lose to South Africa. Coincidence?
I still think it was a try. People always say South Africa had another gear and never really got going. I’m not sure they did. The final score was 15-6 but they never got near our try line. All their points were penalties. If we’d have scored when I scored the try at 9-3 down that would have been 9-8, Wilko would have probably kicked it, so we’d have gone a point ahead. With the fact we defended well for an hour, I think it would have completely changed the mindset for them. Obviously, we’ll never know but it was a pretty amazing experience.

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Reyal stars as UAE rout Uzbekistan in Asia Rugby Championship

Matt Jones 18/05/2016
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UAE will play against Thailand next.

The UAE face a promotion showdown with Thailand on Saturday after they blitzed Uzbekistan 65-13 in a bruising encounter on the opening day of the Asia Rugby Championship.

Apollo Perelini’s side made light work of the hosts, who are officially ranked four places below them at 87th in World Rugby’s rankings.

The UAE were out of sight by half-time, surging into a 40+ point lead at the interval, with full-back Imad Reyal running the show and helping himself to a brace of tries.

It remained one-way traffic after the break, Ryno Fourie and Jaen Botes also touching down twice while Dubai Exiles flyer Charlie Sargent went over for a hat-trick.

Abu Dhabi Harlequins’ lock Phil Brady also crossed the whitewash as Perelini’s charges steamrollered Uzbekistan.

“We were only focusing on today’s game and came out on top with a win,” said Jebel Ali Dragons’ three-quarters Fourie.

“We will enjoy today’s result which is very pleasing and will regroup again for the final against Thailand on Saturday.”

Dubai Hurricanes’ lock Daniel Perry was making his debut for his adopted nation and described it as a physical encounter.

“It was a great result,” said Perry. “It was not easy, they were a big fit physical side and kept going until the 80th minute, but in the end we stuck to our game plan and everything we practiced paid off.”

Thailand reached the final courtesy of a 25-16 triumph against Guam. The UAE will be wary of facing an improved Thailand to the one they hammered 53-22 in Division II a year ago.

“We watched some of the Thailand v Guam game before ours and Thailand looked a much improved team from what we came up against last year so we’re expecting another hard game on Saturday,” said UAE and Abu Dhabi Saracens fly-half Matt Hutchings.

“It’s going to be a massive game for us and one that we will go into with confidence after today’s performance.”

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#360rugby: Saracens building a dynasty

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A round-up of rugby action in UAE and abroad over the last seven days.

As the dust settles on Saracens’ European Cup victory, focus switches back to the Premiership and the UAE’s upcoming tour to Uzbekistan.

What are your thoughts? Tweet us using #360rugby to join the conversation.

SARACENS ARE BUILDING A DYNASTY

After displaying an unparalleled amount of focus to win all nine of their matches in the European Cup, it comes as little surprise that Saracens are already back in training for their Premiership semi-final with Leicester Tigers.

Most teams would be forgiven for indulging a little longer in such an achievement, but for Saracens a plateau in their performance is strictly off the menu.

The Londoners are hoping to learn from Toulon’s mistakes, who claimed a solitary Top 14 triumph during a run of three-consecutive European Cup wins (including two losses in the final).

With a network of feeder clubs spanning the globe, significant financial backing, a roster of home-grown stars and a consistent level of performance at the top level, Saracens are club rugby’s new superpower.

In many ways this group could be considered a European hybrid. Mark McCall’s men combine the wealth and glamour of French rugby, the attacking flair of the Irish provinces and the resolute defence and strong set piece that is indicative of English club rugby.

Ten-time champions Leicester are a rejuvenated team with Manu Tuilangi back in midfield, but while Saracens look this fresh and hungry, it is hard not to see the European Champions take this one.

MCCALL JUMPS AHEAD OF O’SHEA IN RACE FOR IRELAND JOB

With Joe Schmidt seemingly in a three-horse race with Warren Gatland and Wayne Smith to become Steve Hanson’s All Blacks successor, the queue has already started forming for the Ireland role.

Conor O’Shea cut his coaching teeth in England’s Premiership and with sixteen years experience under his belt (including an impressive victory with Harlequins) it looked as if the Italy-bound coach was in the driving seat.

However Quins have regressed slightly over the past three seasons and his team’s resounding loss in the Challenge Cup final on Friday, coupled to Saracens’ thumping win in main competition has put another Irishman in Mark McCall firmly in the frame.

The IRFU typically like to employ a coach that has been in charge of one of the Irish provincial teams and McCall, having coached Ireland ‘A’ and Ulster, has another advantage over O’Shea.

Only time will tell whether O’Shea’s move to sinking ship Italy over an Irish province was a good decision, but one guarantee is that Ireland will not lack for strong alternatives once Schmidt moves on.

FORD DISMISSAL HIGHILGHTS LEAGUE DEBATE ONCE MORE

After failing to build upon last season’s Premiership final appearance, Bath have wielded the axe and coach Mike Ford is the man left to shoulder the blame for 2016’s disappointing eighth-place finish.

This ‘mutual parting’ brings back into focus the question over whether league coaches can successfully lead union teams.

It is understandable that Ford has had some success as specialist defence coach with Saracens and England as the principles behind defending in both sports are identical.

But a head coach is responsible for developing his team’s strategy and game plan across all areas of play, which is almost an impossible task for anyone that has not played that sport at a very high level. While Ford was undoubtedly successful last year, perhaps it is this lack of union experience that meant Bath were unable to keep evolving.

Eddie Jones moved very quickly to remove Andy Farrell from the England coaching set up for similar reasons and perhaps it is time for union chiefs to install experts from within and stop gambling with league converts.

HART TO ADD VALUABLE EXPERIENCE TO UAE NATIONAL TEAM

Paul Hart may be approaching 40 but his selection for Apollo Perelini’s UAE team competing in the Asia Rugby Championship this week proves there’s still plenty of life left in the old dog yet.

However, the Jebel Ali Dragons forward is feeling fresh and fit as the UAE look to gain promotion to the ARC’s Division I, and has brushed off any suggestions this could be his swansong.

“I’m still really enjoying it, I’m still being selected for the UAE and Dragons, so there’s no reason to quit. Until someone younger and better comes along and knocks me off I’ll continue,” said Hart.

Ahead of Wednesday’s Division II semi-final encounter with Uzbekistan, Hart feels former dual code international Perelini has selected a good balance of youth and experience.

“Myself and Ed Lewsey are the two old boys. I think we’ve got to offer the younger lads,” added Hart.

“There’s very much a business-like feel to this tour. Everyone’s delighted to be selected, but we’ve all decided as a squad the hard work starts now and we’re committed to winning this division and being promoted.

EXTRA TIME

With a place in the Olympics at stake it comes as little surprise that this year’s World Sevens Series has been the most thrilling yet. Nowhere is this better exemplified than at last weekend’s Paris Sevens where Canada’s Adam Zaruba pulled off one of the finest pieces of skill you will ever see on a rugby pitch.

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