Japanese rugby players living off the classic Irish school lunch for pre-match-meal
"I was thinking, 'That's a bit odd'."
Six months after it was announced he was signing for NEC Green Rockets, in Japan, and after umpteen pre-season games, Alex Goode finally made his Top League bow.
"It turns out it's the league for me," the Saracens and England star remarked, "as there is absolutely no defence! A 47-38 classic, but we lost. The ball being chucked around everywhere, playing in sunshine and crowds at the game. Nice weekend."
Goode will return to Saracens next season, when they should be back in the Premiership, but he is embracing the culture shock. The only areas he is still looking to sort out are getting balls onto the pitch for the warm-ups, and pre-match meals.
"My experience of the first weekend," Goode told JOE UK's House of Rugby, "was quite different.
"I say Sunday League, as in it's quite professional at the game, but maybe I've been a bit pampered and spoiled at Saracens. When you arrive to the game, the (Saracens) kit-man has your kit, a spare gum-shield, all the balls lined up and there's everything ready for you. So all you have to take, in England, is your boots and your gum-shield, pretty much. Turn up in your tracksuit and off you go.
"Here, you've got to take your match socks, shorts, gum-shield, boots, your own strappings, your own Skins. You go on the Shinkansen - the bullet train - and you have to go in your full suit and tie - NEC pride - which is quite strange. You travel the day before, get to the hotel and change. On match-day, you can wear any t-shirt or top, as long as it has NEC on it."
"We stayed in this wonderful hotel, had a great dinner, good feed the night before," Goode continued.
"A great breakfast, and then it says 'Pre-Match' on the schedule, and it's down an hour after breakfast, and five hours before the match. I was thinking, 'That's a bit odd'.
"I go downstairs to see what the pre-match is about, and it was a bit of a shock. It was what I would describe as a very English pack-lunch - a white bread sandwich, a carton of orange juice and a banana.
"I went to my mate, 'Is this actually the pre-match?' I had to nip along and get some rice balls from the family mart, beforehand."
The packed lunch is a long way removed from what rugby professionals in Europe would be used to.
A few years back, the Irish rugby team's nutritionist, Nora Ní Fhlannagain, spoke about what the senior players would usually take on-board before a Test match:
"Two favourite options of the Irish team are spaghetti bolognese and chicken with sweet potatoes. Some players find it difficult to take on a big meal so they prefer to have a selection of small snacks, like porridge and pancakes. A pre-match meal should focus on healthy carbohydrates and you should eat it about three hours before kick-off."
Clearly, they do it differently in Japan.
Saying that, former Ireland lock Donncha O'Callaghan once told us about the unusual meal their kit-man Patrick 'Rala' O'Reilly arranged before one training session:
"Rala arrived in an ice cream van and it was just 99 ice-creams for everyone. It’s a small little thing but you get camp fever sometimes you know and just something to break it up and make you feel like a normal person."
Goode also spoke about how the NEC Green Rockets staff couldn't find any rugby balls before their season-opener.
"I went out to do some kicking, in my warm-up, and saw all these bands and medicine balls, but no rugby balls. 'What's going on here?' I asked the coach, and he got on his phone.
"Five minutes later and I had done a warm-up so was ready to kick balls. Three more coaches come out and I'm like, 'Guys, where are the rugby balls?' There's still none. They look at each other and are probably like, 'Who is this annoying Englishman?!'"
Just as Goode was thinking it was a case of Mike Bassett: England Manager, and he'd have to do some air-kicking, the balls arrived.
"Bring your own ball next time," Sean O'Brien joked.
These pampered European players don't know they've got it made.
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