Austin Healey

'Good try' is something this sports star heard more on the field than he did in the classroom. But one teacher who liked his quick wit and toughness helped him progress

I won a scholarship to St Anselm's College, a private school in the Wirral, Cheshire, which is part of the Congregation of Christian Brothers. I was the only non-Catholic in my year. I enjoyed school but was a bit mischievous and had trouble with some teachers because I was relatively quick-witted. I suppose I didn't try that hard in lessons. But one teacher, Joe Green, looked after me. He took me for PE, although he also taught maths.

Joe was an easygoing fellow, quite young. He looked a bit like Captain Kirk, only bigger. He was well liked and didn't get any hassle from kids because he was quite an imposing figure, but he also never got cross. He was a former rugby player, though he would be a bit heavy for the modern game.

I was never very interested in academic work and was more into sports and athletics. There was no football at St Anselm's: the main choices of sport were between rugby or cross country. And not many boys wanted to do cross country. There were three rugby teams, and the 1st XV was a focal point for the school.

Sport in schools used to be much stronger than it is now, but with playing fields being sold off and the general reduction in facilities, you are obviously going to see a downturn. It doesn't help either when MPs stand up and say that competition between children is bad. I think that has a negative effect on sport.

Joe gave me one invaluable piece of advice - multi-tasking, learning to become multi-skilled in both sides of my body, left and right. He taught me how to kick with both feet, and throw with both hands. This helped my rugby career enormously.

He had two kids who were at the school, and we would hang out together after school on the sports field. Joe got us a pole-vaulting pit - we were the only school in the area to have one.

Joe was a good guy to know. He stuck up for me on numerous occasions, when I tended to get into conflict with other teachers. He retired two or three years ago and my parents, who still live in the Wirral, keep in touch with him a bit.

At university I played football and golf, and did gymnastics. Things such as trampolining and vaulting are good as training tools, to help you become more spatially aware. But I think it's better to be an all-rounder than to be obsessed with just one sport.

To any kids in school today who are thinking of rugby as a career, I would say professional rugby is not as enjoyable as amateur - although it's not a bad way to earn a living. It's certainly been good for me Austin Healey, 33, is the former England and British Lions rugby star and now a BBC TV sports commentator and Daily Mirror columnist. He will be commentating pitch-side for the BBC at the Six Nations 2007 Championships tomorrow (Saturday, March 17). His autobiography Me And My Mouth is out now.

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