Name: Lee Byrne
Position: Full Back
Clubs: Scarlets, Ospreys, Clermont, NG Dragons
National: England (46 Caps)
What was your route into rugby? Was it a sport you were always interested in?
I first got into rugby by joining my local rugby club Bridgend Athletic when I was 12 years old. I loved the game from the first moment and through playing I was able to make friends with many of the lads – a few of us ended up playing all the way through to seniors together. I played with the club until I was 23, leaving when I got my move to the Llanelli Scarlets.
Are you still involved within the game and do you still have an affiliation with Bridgend Athletic RFC?
I’m still affiliated with Bridgend Athletic and go down to watch the lads play, as well as offering a bit of advice where and when I can. Due to me playing there until the age of 23, I still have close friends within the club so I like to keep up to date with what’s going on at Bridgend.
I’ve also got a connection with the game through the media, and have been doing some punditry work.
Having Played in France and Wales, What were the main differences between the two leagues?
The occasion of match day…experiencing sell-out stadiums week in week out, home and away, was amazing. Don’t get me wrong, the crowds in the Pro 12 were brilliant, but the noise and atmosphere created in France was a different level – an amazing environment to play in.
I played with some amazing players in all the teams that I was a part of, however in France, lining up alongside some global superstars was pretty special. Yet, it also has its downside – mainly for the young French players – as it means they have less chance of progressing through the ranks and breaking into the first team.
What’s your thoughts on the Welsh grassroots rugby structure?
Obviously we don’t have as big a talent pool to choose from as the likes of England, however it seems to be in good stead looking at the results of Welsh rugby in recent years. We’ve produced some fantastic talents, and every so often an exceptional talent comes through the ranks…the most recent of course being George North. The structure is there for others to emulate the success of George, it just comes down to how much they want it.
We’ve got a great coaching setup and the whole nation is passionate about the game, which of course plays a massive factor.
Why do you think rugby is so popular at grassroots level?
I think one of the great things about rugby is its social base…you can be new in town and just head down to the local rugby club – within weeks you’ll have a close group of friends who will be willing to put their body on the line for you; nature of the game!
As I said earlier, I often go down to Bridgend Athletic to see old mates that I met when I first started playing – there’s a great camaraderie that exists in most, if not all rugby clubs.
The key values of the game act as an amazing educational tool for the youth of today…they learn to respect the referee and to fight together as a team!
What do you think of the work E4R are doing?
I think what they’re doing is fantastic…The grassroots area of the game is critical so that we find the future of tomorrow in the youth of today! The help E4R are providing all clubs with, be is through equipment, kit or by helping the individual players means that the amateur game can stay in touch with the advancements of the professional game.
As they say, the E4R spotlight is firmly fixed on grassroots rugby and it’s great to see.
What advice would you give to all the lads gearing up for the new season?
For me, it’s all about dedicating yourself to the game and giving it all you can, no matter if it’s pushing yourself more in training or refusing that extra beer to keep the diet relatively clean, it’s all in the head.
When I played for Bridgend seniors, I had to juggle working life and rugby and the way I did it was through dedication.
Thanks very much to Lee Byrne for doing the interview with us - we wish him all the best for the future!