Matthew Perry - One of the good guys
March 28, 2007
"Matthew Perry, who has just announced his retirement, was a gem of a rugby player." Huw Richards reports for scrum.com
Much more than that, not least in terms of what deserve to be many happy and prosperous years ahead of him, he is also a highly impressive human being.
It was thanks to scrum.com that I first encountered him in his early days as an England player in the late 1990s, asked to talk to him for one of the head-to-head features - interviewing two players who would be in direct opposition - we used to run before international matches.
It was clear there was something different about Perry. He listened to the questions, addressed them thoughtfully and articulately and at the end stuck his hand out and said 'nice to meet you'. Some years later, for a different outlet, I found myself pursuing him for a 'forgotten man of English rugby' interview before the 2003 World Cup.
This ran into a series of obstacles. He had an evening class to go to, I was on Eurostar headed
This is not to criticise other players. England players in particular must feel in danger of repetitive interview syndrome but remain, for the most part, helpful and cooperative. Anyone, never mind an international rugby player, can be forgiven for not bothering to chase up a call after
Perry, though, had none of the sense of self-importance or personal entitlement often seen in top-class sportsmen. There was a respect and regard for other people, a sense that if they - and by extension with journalists their readers - show an interest, you should respond positively
And there was more than that. He might reasonably have felt bitter in 2003 that his career appeared to be dwindling away early and through no fault of his own because of the chronic back problem that has now caused him to call a halt. But for a recurrence of that injury, he might well have gone to the World Cup.
It was his dropping out just before an A match that led to a late call up for Josh Lewsey, who promptly had a stormer against France on a bitter night at Northampton and was perfectly placed to take over when a further injury created a vacancy in the senior side.
Perry had been the first of Clive Woodward's bright ideas when, along with some slightly less well-judged innovations, he was picked as a novice for the new England coach's first match in charge against Australia in 1997.
He might have complained that the emphasis on the one thing he lacked, blinding pace, had led to his displacement from the England team after a spell in which he had been by some margin its best and most reliable back, producing a string of high-quality performances drawing on the all-round
When fit he remained the best all-round full-back in Britain - a quality recognised by Graham Henry when he chose Perry for all three Lions tests against Australia in 2001. He was - and still is - England's most-capped full-back with 36 appearances and scarcely an ordinary, let alone poor, one
He was, of course, disappointed about his run of injuries. He still wanted to play for England and the Lions and to enjoy success with Bath. But what came across more strongly was a sense of how privileged he had been already - that to play for Bath and win a Heineken Cup with them, to play 36 times for England including a World Cup in 1999 and to be a British Lion who played an entire test series against Australia in fact represented great good fortune. There was no bitterness or 'why me ?' about him.
He'll go into retirement with universal good wishes - not just a very fine player, but one of the good guys.