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. …