Size was such a small factor in Peter Stringer's big career 3 years ago

Size was such a small factor in Peter Stringer's big career

"Jesus look at the size of him, what's he doing in there with those boys?"

That's what my mother asked the first time she saw 5 ft 7 1/2 Peter Stringer sandwiched in between Paul O'Connell and Donncha O'Callaghan during Ireland's Call.

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It's a question that my mother asked as soon as she saw him and it's a question that Stringer was asked throughout his entire career. How did a man of his size succeed in a sport where so much of the emphasis is based on size and power?

The answer wasn't straightforward.

As soon as he arrived at Munster in 1998 the issue of his size was flagged.

 "I remember when I first saw Strings and ROG [Ronan O'Gara], and I thought 'are these guys out of school? Did they win a trip out to Munster for the day'?" Former Munster flanker Alan Quinlan recalled.

"They were these two small little guys but Strings went on to win 98 caps and ROG won 128. It was a very special journey along the way."

It was a special journey that was divided in two; the Munster era and the post-Munster era.

The Munster era saw Stringer claim the Heineken Cup, the Triple Crown and the Grand Slam with both Munster and Ireland while the post-Munster era saw the scrum-half reinvent himself at five different clubs across six different seasons in England.

Stringer finally decided to hang up his boots at the age of 40 earlier this week and his size was referenced in a retirement statement on his Twitter account.

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In his statement he thanked the coaches that did not hold his size against him, which makes you wonder if any coaches did, but it was not an issue he was overly concerned with. Not even as a 21-year-old just one year into what would ultimately become a 20-year career.

"If people refer to my size then that's their prerogative," Stringer told The Irish Times in 1999.

"It doesn't affect as I have known nothing else. I have always been smaller than virtually any other player on the pitch and have learnt to cope with that over the years.

"It has never been a hindrance playing against guys who are bigger: tackling does not bother me. I accept my physique and get on with it."

Stringer would not have made it at Munster if he had let his size hold him back but would he have lasted 20 years in professional rugby if he didn't have the attitude to accept and move on?

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When you think of Stringer's career there's a few clear moments that stand out.

There was the ankle tap on Jason Robinson at Twickenham in 2004. There was the fantastic try down the blindside in the 2006 Heineken Cup final against Biarritz. There was the pass to Ronan O'Gara for the 2009 Grand Slam winning drop goal against Wales.

But then there were the tougher moments. He was dropped from Ireland's must-win 2007 Rugby World Cup pool game with France.

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He was replaced by Tomás O'Leary in the Munster team to face Gloucester in the 2008 Heineken Cup quarter-final and started from the bench for the semi-final win over Saracens and the final win over Toulouse.

He had been axed for the Grand Slam decider in Cardiff just one week after he was named man of the match against Scotland in Murrayfield, but still produced one of the most important passes in the history of Irish Rugby when he found his longtime halves partner O'Gara sitting deep in the pocket at the Millennium Stadium.

The story of Peter Stringer is not so much the tale of a small player who succeeded in a sport littered with massive men, it definitely was a factor, but rather his career serves as an example of a big character who persevered in a world where the margins for error were so small.

His talent, his pass, his endurance and his speed were big strengths in the first part of his career but it was his standards in the second-half that saw him extend his time in the professional game long after it became clear that he was surplus to requirements at Munster.

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He didn't touch a drop of alcohol, he improved his diet and made a concerted effort to do everything he could to prolong his career as long as possible.

“In the last five or six years I’ve concentrated on every element of my life with regard to diet and sleep. You look at all the little bits that make up your whole persona and that helps to motivate you,” Stringer told The Rugby Paper

“I’ve taken eating well to a whole new level to prolong my career and make the most of it. I’ll regret it forever if I don’t do everything possible to make sure I’m in the right state of mind and physical shape.

“I’m probably fitter now than I was 20 years ago. As long as my fitness scores are going up, I’ll carry on. I’ve looked for reasons to retire and I can’t see any.

“I can only see myself playing rugby — everything I do is to make that last as long as possible. I love the game and I’m a bit obsessed at this stage with keeping fit. It doesn’t take any talent to do it. It’s just a matter of wanting to do it.”

He loved the game, he loved his fitness and he loved his job for 20 seasons but he bows out of the game at a later stage than any of the players he first started with at Munster, and at a much later stage than the parents who first questioned why he was on the pitch during his school days at Presentation Brothers College.

He never got the send-off that a 98-cap international player probably deserved but he lasted until the end and that had a lot more to do with his character and fortitude than it had to do with his size or his talent.

As he said - "It’s just a matter of wanting to do it.”

He did it, at the highest level, for longer than probably any of us expected. A marathon for a guy who all he was ever told was that it was going to be a sprint.