My Best Teacher;Interview;Robert Howley

5th February 1999 at 00:00
I was fortunate to go to Brynteg Comprehensive in Bridgend. It had a strong sporting and, in particular, rugby tradition - international players like JPR Williams, Mike Hall and Dr Jack Matthews went there - but also a strong tradition of good education.

The teacher who had the greatest influence on me was Keith Crocket - first as head of the lower school and then later on as coach to the rugby first XV. In the early days we saw him as an awesome figure - a disciplinarian, extremely strict. He's still at the school and I expect he's still like that. He looked after the waifs and strays and kept them in line. Anyone who was sent to see him would be quaking in their shoes while they were waiting.

It only happened to me once. It was during the conker season and my conker flew off the end of my string and hit one of the teachers. Fortunately for me Keith saw there was a funny side to it, but I still had to stand in the corridor for two lessons and go straight to rugby training - which is no fun if you've been standing up for an hour and 20 minutes.

I know now that Keith has a terrific sense of humour, but it was concealed in those days. I got to know the other side of him after I got into the first XV when I was in the fifth form. Keith had played for a good local club, Bridgend Sports, knew a lot about the game and knew how to get that knowledge across as a coach. He was particularly strong as a coach of sevens and knew how to use all the tactics, such as the kicking game.

We travelled to a lot of tournaments like the NatWest and the Rosslyn Park sevens, and were very successful, winning four or five competitions while I was there. Sevens wasn't always taken very seriously in Wales, but I've always been grateful for the emphasis Keith put on it. As well as getting the chance to go to competitions like the World Sevens, it is an excellent training for rugby. You have to develop an all-round game, to be able to pass, tackle one on one and read the game well.

I still see him quite frequently - we'll get together to talk about my game, or about Welsh rugby in general. I still live in Bridgend, only a stone's throw from the school, and Keith allows me to train on the fields and to use the school gym if it isn't too busy and I need to train on a wet day. People who taught me in the sixth form have moved on, but a lot of the PE staff are still there. I still have a strong interest in how sport and rugby is doing at Brynteg and have taken the first XV for the occasional training session.

I wouldn't describe myself as a particularly good student, but my parents made sure I was aware of the importance of education, and I was quite studious. It helped that my elder sister Karen had done A-levels and gone to South Glamorgan Institute, as I wanted to do at least as well as her.

It wasn't always easy to balance things, particularly when I was doing A-levels and was captain of the Wales schools team. I also played cricket and played for Wales at under 15, 16 and 17 level. Teachers were prepared to give you some leeway, allowing you to leave lessons early if you were playing in a game. But you were always reminded not to forget the importance of education. Even so, there were occasions when exam revision went a little bit by the board.

It was my ambition to play rugby for Wales from the age of 11 or 12. When it came to deciding which universities to apply to, I was keen to stay in Wales and to go to a university with a strong rugby tradition, particularly as I was playing for Bridgend by then. I talked to Keith about this and ended up going to Swansea University, where he knew the coach, Stan Addicott, very well. After university - I got a 2:2 in management science - I worked as a sports development officer for the local council, which meant going into Brynteg and other schools in the Ogwr district, helping with other sports as well as rugby. It was a good chance to see sport from the point of view of teachers and parents.

Whenever I talk to groups of young people, I emphasise the importance of getting a good education. My degree means I have something to fall back on when rugby finishes. Youngsters can be very impressionable; they see professional players making good money and can be tempted to believe that education can go out of the window while they concentrate on sport. What they have to be reminded of is that a sporting career is very short, it can be ended at any time by an injury, and only about five per cent of professional rugby players are on really good money.

Robert Howley, who captains Wales against Scotland at Murrayfield tomorrow, has been capped 26 times for Wales, has been captain since 1997 and was a member of the British Lions squad which toured South Africa in 1997. He was talking to Huw Richards

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