Mr Smith and Mrs Craig by Lewis Moody

10th January 2014 at 00:00
The rugby union star reveals how he owes his `Mad Dog' reputation to the school coach who taught him tenacity, and remembers a supportive maths teacher who gave him self-belief

I went to Oakham School in Rutland from 1989 to 1996. I was incredibly fortunate that my family worked very hard and wanted to afford me every possible opportunity. I was an only child and they wanted the best for me, so they got me into a private school. It was, honestly, a wonderful place.

Other Oakham students have made it in the world of sport too, including cricketer Stuart Broad and my fellow rugby union player Tom Croft, and it was one of the school's sports teachers who really had an impact on me. Ian Smith taught maths as well but I just had him for rugby.

He gave me a real understanding of the game, why we play it and why the team and the concept of a team is the single most important element. He also taught me to go and get the ball. It may sound simple, but Mr Smith showed us that you can't do anything without it and that's something that has stayed with me - that willingness to chase down players, an attitude that got me the nickname "Mad Dog".

Another of Mr Smith's lessons was that it doesn't matter what sort of pain you go through while getting that ball back, you do it for the good of the team. I see him quite regularly and often joke that he still hasn't paid up for the huge medical bills that have come my way as a result of the way he coached me. I was always very physical but he instilled this idea that the whole team needed to benefit from my actions. It was a really personal challenge that he gave me.

Mr Smith was a very quietly mannered teacher. He never shouted. It's clever, really: he was so softly spoken that we all had to be quiet to hear what he was saying. That's how he kept us focused.

He could be stern but it was never through shouting, it was always through the respect he commanded and the results he got. Mr Smith instilled this desire to achieve for him and for each other. It was a real bonding experience; we lost only two games and that record was down to him.

The whole experience taught me what rugby could do for me - not just from a playing point of view but socially as well. We'd go out as a team. We might have been very different characters in the school environment, in terms of who was a "cool" kid and who was not, but we'd still all go out together after a game. It was a uniting experience.

I really want to mention a second teacher, too. At the time, rugby wasn't a professional sport so I wanted a career in the military. For that, I needed GCSEs in maths and English. But I was never any good at maths - in fact I was awful. I failed my GCSE twice. But my maths teacher Mrs Craig (her first name escapes me) put a huge amount of faith in me and taught me how to put my mind to the subject.

She gave me the tools to pass the exam on the third sitting. She was a classic maths teacher: stern, but you had a great deal of respect for her because you didn't want to be on the wrong side of her.

Mrs Craig was pivotal in giving me belief in myself. She had a way of teaching you not to give up, and however much I felt maths wasn't for me, she was able to convince me that I could do it. My desire to join the Army was my driving force but Mrs Craig instilled in me a belief that the teachers who came before her hadn't been able to. That's an incredible skill in my book.

HITZ, Premiership Rugby's award-winning social inclusion programme helping young people learn skills for education, vocational training or employment, is expanding nationally with funding from partners Barclays, Comic Relief, Land Rover and Wooden Spoon. Lewis Moody is a Land Rover brand ambassador and was speaking to Tom Cullen

Rugby pedigree

Lewis Moody

Born: 12 June 1978, Ascot, Berkshire, England

Education: Oakham School, Rutland; De Montfort University

Career: In a 16-year rugby union career, Moody won 71 England caps and was part of the World Cup-winning squad in 2003.

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