Lions prop back at his old stamping ground

PUBLISHED : Monday, 03 April, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 03 April, 2006, 12:00am

Sixteen straight years in the Sevens stands have given former England, British Lions and Bath prop Gareth 'Cooch' Chilcott a fairly unique insight into the tournament - and into its effects on the greater world of rugby.

Chilcott is back again, picking up a few speaking engagements, and generally pressing the flesh as much as he can. And he reflected on all that he had seen before him during a break in the action yesterday.

'I've been coming here a long time now,' says Chilcott, who turns 50 later this year. 'At first the English powers that be didn't take the event really seriously. I would go back and say, 'I've seen this giant called Jonah Lomu, or I've seen this kid called Christian Cullen'.

'These teams were using Hong Kong as the turning out party for the stars of the future. And it was when England started to take Hong Kong seriously that they became the team they became,' he said.

Chilcott carved out a niche in the game's history thanks to his uncompromising play - and in no small part to his ever-present moustache. Never one to take a backward step, he was once voted by Rugby Magazine as sixth dirtiest player in the game's history.

His career - his international playing days ended in 1989 - also hugged the end of the game's romance with amateurism and the birth of the professional era. And it couldn't have come at a better time. Chilcott left school at the age of 15, found work as a lumberjack and a nightclub doorman. And he worked his way up through the ranks of the English game on weekends.

'Back then you didn't make money from the game itself, but you did make contacts and the financial rewards came from those contacts,' he says. 'So the game gave me a foothold in life as well as all the memories I had from playing and coaching.'

Chilcott has become somewhat of a multimedia superstar since hanging up his boots - a regular pundit for British television, he has also made his way on to game and lifestyle shows, glammed himself for the odd Christmas pantomime, and penned the occasional book. He also helped found Gulliver's Sports Travel, taking sports fans to the far reaches of the globe and allowing Chilcott to continue his passion for the game of rugby.

And that includes his annual pilgrimage to Hong Kong., where he enjoys a few memories, a few beers and a few laughs.

'One look at me will tell you I was never much of a sevens player myself,' he says. 'But there's no doubt that events like the Hong Kong Sevens helped make the game faster and better, and have helped its popularity enormously.

'There is less time now for the sort of stuff I got up too - and it's a good thing. Anyway, with the coverage you get from all the television cameras these days, there's just no chance to give someone a whack.'