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Rugby Union: BEES' LAW LORD; Clinical psychology is helping make on of the season's success stories. Brian Dick explains All of the principles that would apply to someone who is a drug-abuser or alcoholic and getting them on the right track are the same principles that you would use here to get players to stay on the right training regime, be disciplined about food and keep going to the gym Brian Thomas-Peter.

Byline: Brian Dick

I f you were to ask Phil Maynard which of his many signings has made the biggest impact at Sharmans Cross Road, there is a fair chance he would point to 51--year-old full--back cum centre Brian Thomas-Peter.

Not that the Canadian exile is often in the frame for either the No 12 or No 13 shirt, or the No 15 for that matter; his contribution goes well beyond the usual rugby skills of tackle, pass and run.

As a clinical psychologist with the Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health Trust, the Bees' director of rugby recruited Professor Thomas--Peter to look into the minds of his players in an effort to improve their chronic ill--discipline.

Seemingly ever since their creation in 1989, the baddies from Sharmans Cross Road had been gifting their opponents penalties by the bootful, both technical and, well, let's just call the other sort physical.

So who better to delve into the darkest recesses of a prop forward's head than the man who goes places few others want to, every day of the week? If anyone could understand what drives a loose--head to punch first, think (much) later, then it is the man who was professionally involved in the case of mass--murderer Rosemary West.

Not that he likes to talk about what must have been a truly disturbing experience because, having made his home in this country for the last 35 years, he is very much a rugby man first and criminal headshrinker second.

Even though a near--broken neck sustained while turning out for Ledbury Veterans several years ago persuaded him to step off the pitch, his influence can still be felt on it. In only 18 months, Bees have been transformed from the most penalised side in National One into one of the best-drilled and organised.

This season, they boast the second--best defensive record in the division, ahead of full--timers Orrell and have proved for long periods during games that their boots, hands and minds are no longer so errant.

Thomas--Peter said: 'I estimated last season that we lost four games through ill--discipline. In fact, the majority of the games we lost were through our own lack of discipline.

'When we walked through the door, the offences were so obvious we did not have to analyse them. We were giving away a lot of penalties at the breakdown and were ill-disciplined as a squad, we had quite a lot of talent and were a physically-menacing side but had poor discipline.'

That's where the psychobabble comes in: 'My work is with forensic patients which means working with mentallyabnormal offenders. The area I have specialised in is working with people with a personality disorder, which is the difficult end of the market psychologically.

'All of the principles that would apply to someone who is a drug-abuser or alcoholic and getting them on the right track are the same principles that you would use here to get players to stay on the right training regime, be disciplined about food and keep going to the gym.

'Rugby players are 'well' people, there is nothing wrong with them, so I have to make the well do better. To make them do that, in any sphere, you have to ensure things that are important to the organisation, important to them.' Any questions so far? Then we'll continue.

'I have been trying to help players get outside of their individual ambitions on the field. Some of the people we have had at this club would think about rugby and their role in the game as something akin to mortal combat. It was about fighting the person in front of them and winning the battle with their opponent, especially in a contact situation.

'But what is really important in the tackle is stopping the forward progress and then you have to think about getting the ball from the carrier. Personal responsibility is crucial in that process, because you must not give away a penalty, so there comes a moment where the referee shouts and you have to let go --the personal battle of who wins the ball becomes unimportant. You then have a different job to do, to put yourself in position for the next phase.'

If the theory is a bit of a cerebral Everest, the practice is a mere foothill. This season, for the first time, the club have given their players personal diaries in which to record their training programmes, food intake and injury management.

Every month or so, Brian collects the journals to check they are toeing the line. Even though he cannot be sure they're telling the truth, he is pretty confident peer pressure within the club is strong enough to ensure compliance.

He said: 'The atmosphere that Phil has engendered among the boys here helps me tremendously, because I do not have to say to someone that they played badly when it is so much better coming from one of the other players.

'Nobody wants their mates to disapprove of them and we have got such a strong spirit in the club, which means I do not have to watch over them 24 hours a day and I can leave them to it.'

But that strategy might come unstuck if one of the law--breakers was popular with other players. A bad apple could easily infect the rest of the barrel, which means the coaching staff have to jump on any unhelpful behaviour immediately.

Such a situation arose last season. One of the team leaders, prop Lee Fortey (who, by the end of the campaign, had earned himself a contract with Worcester) was known to have a worryingly short fuse.

'Those people who are socially quite central are very important if they do not comply. They are the ones we have to target. Last year, one of the players we targeted was Lee Fortey 'Lee is a man that would fight at the drop of a hat, because he sawhimself as an abrasive man. Clearly, you want someone like that in your team, but you want him not to throw punches.

'We worked on him, we did very well. He was not red--carded all season and got just two yellows, both for technical offences. 'We even have his improvement on video because, in one game, he had a player on the deck and had his fist cocked ready to drive this fellow through the ground and then he just stopped, got up and jogged off.

'To be able to show him that was fantastic. He got great congratulations and, even though he was ribbed about being a girl, he would not have been at Worcester now had be been giving away yellow cards. Once he got control of himself, he became a very good player; when he didn't, he was a liability.'

Fortey is not the only squad member who has taken on board what he has been told, Thomas-Peter also praised second row Alex Davidson, in and out of the side last year but, when his ribs let him, a massive influence in the pack of 2003-04.

Thomas--Peter said: 'For a young guy, Alex has made very significant progress. Every time he got on the field last year he was yellow--carded and now, with a different framework, he is a much more settled player. He may not do the spectacular things so much now, but he is a better player especially in the line-out.

'Ed Orgee has really stepped up in the way he has concentrated on the game this season in his new position of second row. It has changed his role and now he is one of the fastest second rows in the league. Terry Sigley is another one. He has made useful progress. At the beginning of the season, he turned up reasonably fit but he has changed his body shape and taken himself seriously and now we do not have too many problems with him, either.'

Last year, Bees lacked leadership on the pitch at times, especially when sides put them under pressure, so Maynard looked to bring in a bit of rugby nous.

'We have got some older heads in the side this year and that has been very helpful. Someone like Craig Chalmers did not get to be the player he is because he is a loose cannon or made excuses.

'Jim Thorp is another example because he is such a physical specimen and looked after himself, coming from Sale and playing nine games with them last year. It is important to have him not only because he is big, fast, well-cut and hugely impressive, but also because some of the boys may have looked at him and thought about what they need to do to get to that level.'

It is a level of performance that has earned Maynard's merry band a huge amount of admirers. When Bedford arrived just before Christmas, Bees raced into a lead in only ten minutes and spent the rest of the match pinned back into their own 22 with nothing but tackling practice to look forward to. They gave away only a handful of penalties and denied the visitors, finishing 22--5 winners over demoralised opponents.

'Psychology might only account for about three per cent of a side's performance and might only improve a player by one per cent but if you can develop him by, say, ten, that is a massive contribution,' explained Thomas-Peter.

'Come game-time, he will be in a position to make that tackle, score that try and win the game for us.'

Which is where a 51--year--old full--back comes into his own.


Brian Thomas-Peter watches Pertemps Bees train. A rugby man first and criminal headshrinker second, he says: 'The area I have specialised in is working with people with a personality disorder which is the difficult end of the market psychologically'
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jan 10, 2004
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