The Ben Kay Q&A
July 14, 2010
Ben Kay will be part of ESPN's commentary team for the new Aviva Premiership season © Getty Images
A legend at Leicester Tigers and a World Cup-winner with England, Ben Kay hit the heights as a player and will soon lend his experience to the commentary team for ESPN's coverage of the Aviva Premiership. With pre-season underway in England, ESPNscrum editor Graham Jenkins caught up with Kay to talk Tigers, his new career and the season ahead.
Graham Jenkins: How difficult was it to call time on your playing days and are you excited by your new career?
Ben Kay: "The body was holding up OK and I could have kept going but I think it may have been for the wrong reasons had I done so. If I had decided to keep playing, the decision probably would have been financially motivated whereas I am genuinely excited by this new challenge. I was a little bit scared of the unknown and had contemplated playing on but as soon as the offer came through from ESPN I just felt it was what I wanted to do and it was the right time to do it. I always wanted to do something as exciting and challenging as playing as and when I retired and I think this fits the bill."
Did you always fancy trying your hand as a rugby pundit?
"I hadn't set my heart on a move into the media and there are obviously very few jobs in the media for ex-players. But it was something that I was interested in pursuing and when the opportunity came up it forced my hand to a certain degree in terms of retirement. If you had asked me previously whether I would like such a job I would have of course said yes, but I was also realistic about the limited amount of opportunities out there."
So you're not missing the prospect of pre-season training?
"Well, they started last week at Leicester and Martin Corry actually texted me to check if there were any pangs of regret and I happily assured him that there were none whatsoever!"
What will ESPN bring to the Premiership?
"The key message is that ESPN want to be the fans' channel. We want to capture all the excitement of the Premiership but also be the voice of the fans. There will be some things that we do a little differently but you'll have to wait and see what they are. I can tell you that we will have a studio at all the games we're covering, which is exciting, and the team they are putting together is a good one. We've obviously got a lot of the games on offer this season and I'm sure what we produce will enticing. "
How do you feel about teaming up with Austin Healey again?
"Every silver lining has its cloud! Seriously, Austin is a good mate of mine, although I would never admit that publicly. I'm really looking forward to working with him again but driving around the country in the same car as him is not so appealing. There should be plenty of banter flying around - if they let us talk to each other! He's not shy of voicing his opinions and I'm not shy of telling him he's wrong."
What do you think makes the Premiership so special?
"I did consider moves abroad during my career but I think the Premiership is a fantastic tournament and one that would have been hard to turn my back on. There was a lot of talk about how the English clubs failed to challenge for last season's Heineken Cup and how great the French teams were but if you look at the year before it was the French sides that were struggling. It's a cyclical thing and can turn on a dodgy decision here or there and a bit of bad luck when you don't qualify. I think the Premiership is really strong at the moment and an exciting league to be part of. If you talk to any of the southern hemisphere players who have experienced it they will tell you how tough the campaign is - it is a real test, proper rugby and what we want to see. Towards the end of last year particularly, the games were fantastic and the final was such a superb showcase for the Premiership."
Your former club Leicester claimed the crown once again last season - what is their secret?
"I don't think there is a big secret. Cockers [Tigers head coach Richard Cockerill] came out after the final and said that his sides just worked hard. There is an ethos around the place that you do everything you can and you never give up. That certainly came through in last year's final, equally they have some great players and some excellent facilities, but some other sides are going to be matching them on that front. It will be interesting to see if they can stay one step ahead with the likes of Bath putting together a fantastic set-up since Bruce [Craig, chairman] came in. Leicester have done very well to be there or thereabouts for such a long time but there are other sides like Wasps, Northampton and Saracens who will be chasing them hard. And I'm sure Leicester will be looking over their shoulder worrying where the next challenge is going to come from.
How do you think Exeter will get on in their first season in the top flight?
"It will be extremely tough for them, no doubt. They were already behind the competition somewhat because a lot of the teams will have been recruiting for the next Premiership season well before the end of the season and Exeter didn't know they would be in the league until the very end of their campaign. Success will depend on how quickly they can adapt and how quickly they can get a couple of wins under their belt. If you look at Leeds for example, they fully deserved to stay up, and were arguably better than some of the sides that finished above them last season, but they were losing games by the odd point or drawing - it's all about getting that winning mentality, it doesn't have to be pretty, you just have to get it done."
How do you think the 2011 Rugby World Cup will impact on the new season?
"England commitments always play a big part in the season because the guys are away for certain times in the year and it is at those times when your Premiership play-off hopes are decided. It all depends on how well you deal with the loss of your internationals. It's just part of the game and previously we've never made any special dispensation to the guys, we just got on with it. I am sure England will get the preparation right in the summer leading up to the World Cup and the players will have to cope. You want to be playing in the Premiership, lifting yourself to the highest level every week because that's what brings you on as a player and it should ensure you are firing come the World Cup."
And for some the season starts here with the J.P. Morgan Premiership Rugby Sevens Series - what can we expect to see?
"It will be very much a showcase for the young talent the clubs have in their ranks as it is very early in the pre-season and the guys who saw a lot of rugby last season will not feel like getting back on the paddock so soon. But we'll get to see some of the emerging stars and the guys who may have been carrying injuries last season and who need a bit of game time. If there weather is as good as it has been in the last few weeks it will be a real festival of rugby. I remember the Melrose Sevens a couple of years ago, there was a fantastic try everyone was raving about scored by a young lad called Ben Youngs. We've all seen how quickly he has become a world class No.9 with Leicester and England."
ESPN has a multi-year deal for exclusive live rights to 43 Aviva Premiership matches a season, including the final and one of the semi-finals.
Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum.