Swimming with Sharks
Sale Sharks stalwart Mark Cueto is desperate to bring the glory days back to his club.
17th Aug 2021
17th Aug 2021
Phil de Glanville has never been that dad on the sidelines. You’ve probably seen – and heard – the type patrolling the touchlines of mini and junior pitches. The pushy, aggressive father who’s always shouting at their kid (and even those that aren’t theirs), bawling out coaches and f’ing and blinding.
The former England captain has three sons who have been playing rugby and cricket since they were barely out of nappies, but he insists he never pushed any of them to follow in his footsteps. He didn’t want them to feel the pressure of being an international’s offspring. Instead of driving them to be the best, he took a back seat, letting them choose their own path in life.
Well, I say he was never that dad but there was one incidence, one exception to the rule. It was when he was watching his son Tom, now the Bath full-back, play at Beechen Cliff school. It was the moment the mask slipped.
I don’t want to be one of those mums and dads who are interfering, talking to the coaches, that kind of stuff. When you’re constantly being compared to a parent, the ‘son of…’, then it’s extra pressure.Phil de Glanville
“I always tried to be quiet but there was one match at Beechen Cliff where I started shouting about tackling low because they were all tackling high and being bounced off left, right and centre. I got really frustrated and was like, ‘Come on, tackle low!’” said Phil.
“Afterwards, Tom was like, ‘Dad, shut up, will you? Don’t be that embarrassing dad on the sideline’. That was the exception, otherwise I try to stay out of it. I promised to shout nothing other than encouragement.
“I don’t want to be one of those mums and dads who are interfering, talking to the coaches, that kind of stuff. We’ve got three sons and we said to all of them, ‘Do what you enjoy, do what you have a passion for’. When you’re constantly being compared to a parent, the ‘son of…’, then it’s extra pressure. It’s great that he’s forging his own path but we’ve always tried to let him find his own way. But he knows that if he wants help and advice, he can come to us.”
It was at Beechen Cliff and in the Bath youth system that Tom began to stand out from the crowd as a talented fly-half. Although there wasn’t a specific moment when the penny dropped and De Glanville senior thought his son was destined to be a special player, he always had something that separates the wheat from the chaff: an eye for space.
“He was lucky in that he had a great coach in Bath youth, Matt Ellis, so that really helped,” said Phil. “All three boys were in the Bath academy, so they were all pretty tidy.
His conditioning started to kick in at 15 and, by 18, he was really quite quick, which helped him get through gaps he had no right to get through. But the aspect that really stood out was his ability to control a game really well.Phil de Glanville on son, Tom
“I wouldn’t say there’s anything different from his brothers or many of his fellow players in terms of pace and skill, but what did make him stand out was his awareness, his vision, his understanding of the game.
“His conditioning started to kick in at 15 and, by 18, he was really quite quick, which helped him get through gaps he had no right to get through. But the aspect that really stood out was his ability to control a game really well.”
The 21-year-old played 15 times for Bath last season, helping them to a seventh-place finish in the Gallagher Premiership and a Champions Cup berth for the upcoming campaign. But he has been forced to switch from No 10 to No 15 to secure a first-team spot at The Rec. And while his burgeoning form earned him an England call-up at the start of the summer, Phil is eager for him to set his sights on his former playmaking role.
“He played fly-half until the year before last, including for England Under-20s at the World Cup,” said De Glanville senior. “He was always in the decision-making position and he just had great awareness, he could see space and get into it.
“It’s a shame he doesn’t want to play fly-half again. At Bath, because he’s a youngster coming into the game, he feels he needs to learn what it’s like in the Premiership before that’s an option. There’s probably a little lack of confidence to do that because it’s such a pivotal position.
“But I’ll definitely be suggesting he still talks to [Bath director of rugby] Stuart Hooper about it. He’d never played full-back before two years ago and, to be honest, he has still got a fair bit to learn about the positioning at full-back, so we’ll wait and see.”
That being said, Tom still impressed enough to earn an England call-up for Eddie Jones’ initial squad for the summer Tests against the USA and Canada. Although he was released when the Premiership semi-finalists became available, at least it was a better experience than the year before. Tom was in the England squad for three days in October 2020 before Jones made him available to play for the Barbarians against his side.
Unfortunately, Tom was one of 13 Baa-Baas players who didn’t exactly cover themselves in glory by breaking Covid protocols and leaving their hotel without permission, leading to the cancellation of the fixture and a playing ban. Jones said English rugby was made into “a laughing stock” and Tom himself admitted he went to “a pretty dark place” afterwards, while Phil said that it had been a “traumatic experience” for his son.
His recall, though, showed bridges have been rebuilt and that grudges aren’t being held. In fact, De Glanville senior was probably more anxious than De Glanville junior.
The higher you go, the harder it gets, so you always have that bit of nervousness for him. You’re in control of that as a player; you’re not when it’s your son.Phil de Glanville
“I told him to just enjoy it,” said Phil, who won 38 caps between 1992-1999 (a tally the centre would have probably doubled if it weren’t for the immovable object of Will Carling and the irresistible force of Jeremy Guscott) , “and that every England match, every camp, is special and to never take them for granted. Play each match as if it’s your last because you never know when your time is going to be up through whatever circumstances.
“You don’t want to get to the end and think, ‘Damn, I wish I’d done X, Y and Z’. Make the most of every experience.
“When you’re called up, you try to make that step-up, to show that you have a right to be there. It’s a ‘pinch yourself’ moment.
“When I got called up, there was Peter Winterbottom, Wade Dooley, Mickey Skinner, Dewi Morris and all these guys you watched play in the 1991 World Cup final. It takes a bit of time to feel you belong there, that you’re good enough to be there.
“It’s very different watching your son do it. Whether it’s the Bath academy, Under-18s, Bath first team, England, there’s always that aspect of, ‘Will he be able to cope? Will he feel like he belongs there? Can he make the transition?’
“The higher you go, the harder it gets, so you always have that bit of nervousness for him. You’re in control of that as a player; you’re not when it’s your son.”
If Tom does make his England bow next season, he’ll be extremely lucky if he has a more memorable opening chapter to his international career than his dad. After coming on as an injury replacement against South Africa for his debut in 1992, which England won 33-16, Phil then made his first Test start against New Zealand in 1993. It was a match remembered as much for Jamie Joseph’s gratuitous stamp on the ankle of scrum-half Kyran Bracken as for England’s 15-9 triumph at Twickenham.
“I’d played for England A against South Africa in ’92 and we nearly beat them, so I got on the bench for the Test and came on on the wing,” said De Glanville. “I was opposite James Small and I was praying, ‘Please don’t pass it to him’. We had a decent chunk of the ball but I think I touched it only four or five times. But it just gave me a flavour of Test rugby.
“My first starting cap was against New Zealand in ’93 and that was quite special because we beat them.
“We had divisions in those days and I played for the South-West against them about five weeks before. I got a really bad stamp all through my eye by Sean Fitzpatrick and there was quite a lot of hoo-ha in the press about it. I needed 15 stitches and nearly lost my eye. But I recovered from that and got picked to play against the All Blacks, which was great.
“I’ve still got strong memories of that game, the crowd were amazing and we were obviously huge underdogs. We had to do a lot of tackling in that game – they just came at us and came at us. I remember just hanging in there. That match is burned in the memory.”
But before Tom can start dreaming of that first England cap, he will first have to focus on playing a starring role for Bath. Phil says his chest-bursting moment was not his England call-up but getting to see his son play live for the Bath first XV for the first time in their final league game of last season against Northampton: “Getting to give him a hug afterwards and watching him share a beer with his mates, I was very proud.”
The De Glanville father-son combination isn’t the only one at Bath; there’s Steve and Max Ojomoh, Bryan and Cam Redpath and Mark and Miles Reid, who was the players’ player of the season. And Phil believes the fact that these youngsters have all come through together will stand the club in good stead heading into the new season, which starts against Sale Sharks on September 18. But he believes Bath may need to add some grunt to go along with the guile and grace of their new signing Danny Cipriani if they are to recapture the glories of the West Country club’s heyday when he was playing.
It will also be interesting to see how Danny Cipriani goes next season, he could be the creative genius they have been missing. Anything is possible with him.Phil de Glanville
“He has come through with a lot of his friends from the academy and school. They’re all his mates – he has played with some of them since he was 12 – so he has a connection there,” said Phil. “When you have guys alongside you through all that period, that shared past experience, there’s a really strong bond there.
“It’s the next generation but they need to supplement that with a couple of what I call ‘hairy-ass’ players. Just some gnarly players, like Jasper Wiese at Leicester, really big guys. Someone also in the backline who’s a bit brutish and physical.
“It will also be interesting to see how Danny Cipriani goes next season, he could be the creative genius they have been missing. Anything is possible with him.”
But finally, the most important question of all, who would win in a head-to-head clash between De Glanville old and new, who would have the edge? In terms of pace, there’s only one winner.
“Absolutely him, once Tom’s at full running speed, he’s in a different league,” said Phil. “I still get a lot of stick off Austin Healey and the boys at BT Sport but over 5-10metres, I wasn’t too bad, I was reasonably quick. But if you talk about 30m-plus, he’d absolutely hammer me.
“Obviously as a centre, I was doing more tackling. At full-back, you’re doing more high-risk, one-on-one tackles, but I can probably have that over him,” added Phil jokingly. “In all seriousness, I don’t really like comparisons, the game has changed so much over the past 20 years.”
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