Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Interview with S. Niedzwiecki – Polish rugby player

Today I'm going to introduce something completely new to my blog. I have recently interviewed one of the best Polish rugby players – Stanislaw Niedzwiecki. Below you will find the full interview. I hope you will enjoy reading it.

1. How did your rugby adventure start? 
My dad was a head coach at Budowlani Lublin rugby club and Polish National Rugby Team. My brother was already a player at the club so when I was 5 years old I started coming to the trainings and messed about with the rugby ball. Once, I was allowed to join in the training and played with the older boys (there was no age group for younger children at this time). They played "walking rugby" - it was a rugby drill, in which you were only allowed to walk. As I was younger, I was given a bit of handicap and was allowed to run. I scored my first try then. I still remember that amazing feeling when I was running away from my opponents (years later I found out that coach forbade them to catch me). When I scored I felt like a World Champion! I knew I wanted to become a rugby player since then.

2. Despite your young age, you have achieved a lot as a rugby player. Could you tell us more about it?
I managed to win the Polish Championship twice (highest league in Poland) and triumphed in the Polish Cup once. I won my first gold medal with AZS-AWF Warsaw Rugby Club. Both, the second gold medal and the Cup I was awarded when playing with Budowlani Lodz Rugby Club. Matches in the National Team mean a lot to me and I rate them very high as well. I also played in youth National Teams, where I was a skipper for two years.

3. Is any particular medal more important to you?
Yes, the first one. I came back to playing after an injury and winning the league was a cherry on the cake of my comeback. That feeling when a gold medal is presented to you and then is hanging around your neck for the first time stays in your memory forever, it was a very emotional moment.

4. Apart from playing for Polish teams you also had a spell abroad. You played in Portugal in Benfica. What can you tell us about the level of game out there?

In Portugal, the style of game is different to the one in Polish rugby. They have very skilled backs and love to distribute the ball wide. This is their main advantage. You have to stay focused all the time not to give them a chance to play wide and make room for the agile wingers. In Poland, backs are playing more physical game, they are looking for contact more often. Another thing is presence of foreigners in the Portuguese league. There are players from South Africa, New Zealand, Australia or France. In a lot of cases, they are the main force for Portuguese teams, including Benfica.

5. Do you think that changing of environment was beneficial to you as a player?

Yes, I do. You can always learn a lot from different game styles. As I mentioned before, Portuguese play much wider. Secondly, the possibility to play with and against top-level players, mostly foreigners but also Portuguese who took part in the RWC 2007 was beneficial. I could challenge myself by playing against them.

6. Would you recommend playing abroad to the other players?
Definitely yes! If a skillful player has a chance to try himself, they should take it. It may be very beneficial and if you are lucky enough you can get noticed and maybe get an offer to play at the higher level.

7. You have been the skipper at Budowlani Lublin Rugby Club for the last few seasons. Is it difficult to be a leader? What responsibilities does the role entail?
It gives you much more pressure before the games. The captain needs to work exceptionally hard on the pitch, he needs to be an example to other team-mates, has to bring the team together in the crisis situations and raise the team spirit from the first to the last whistle. Before the game there is always a motivational speech on which a lot depends. As you know 80% of effective defense is in your mindset, only 20% are your skills and physics. My job is to make sure that this 80% is in throughout the game. But being a good captain doesn't finish on the match days, you have to motivate your team-mates during the training sessions as well. You have to stay in touch with them and give them a ring if they don’t attend. As I mentioned before all of this adds up and can create quite a big pressure. At the same time you also have to focus on your own game and your own tasks. It's difficult for me to judge myself, but I think I'm handling my captain's responsibilities well.

8. Apart from playing in Budowlani Lublin Rugby Club you have been selected to play in the Polish National Team. How many games do you have so far?
I have 10 official international games. My winning ratio is quite good as I have 8 wins, 1 draw and 1 loss. Playing in the National Team is the biggest success for me. It is also a huge honour for me just like for every sports person.

9. Which match was the most important to you so far?
The most important was the one against Germany in Frankfurt. It was my first game in the starting XV, I was chosen because one of my colleagues got sick. I thought that this was my chance to grab. The match was very fierce. We came as an underdog. German journalists were so confident that they did not ask if their team would win but how big the margin would be. Some of our starting XV players could not make it for this game so our defeat would not be a surprise to anyone.
The game was very tight, we played tough, and I liked it. I could feel the power coming. Germans were breaking down; they kept giving away penalties, which our kicker managed to successfully convert to points. In the 50th minute I received a blindside pass. I spotted a gap in the defense and knocked down one of the Germans. I was on my way to the try line but was caught by the 3rd line of defense. Two or three defenders tackled me down after which I fell down unconscious. The break which I created led to the try, which was crucial to the win. We beat them 22:17. I had to watch this game and my run on DVD as I didn't remember too much.

10. Recently you have tried to put your first steps as a coach, it is a new challenge, how do you find yourself in this role?
Yes, I started trainings with minis. This is something completely new to me, but it gives me an amazing feeling when a kid starts to figure out what the game is all about. A few moments ago, he could not catch a ball and now he sells dummies and runs for the try line. It is incredible.
Moreover, you need to start preparing the next generation of rugby players.

11. People say that rugby shapes your character for life, would you agree with this?
Yes, definitely. I'm sure my life would be different if I was not a rugby player. Rugby teaches you rules of honour, which are useful in many life situations and lets you act right. Rugby is a contact sport, although in my opinion not as much as an ice hockey, which is probably even tougher, nonetheless rugby is the most team-orientated sport of the modern times. You have to play for the team not for yourself. You have to commit for the team but you can be sure that the team will do the same for you if you need it. Rugby develops such skills as hard work, resistance to pain, honour, brotherhood, respect for yourself, your team mates and opponents. These attributes are hard to find nowadays but rugby is their stronghold. If you can make it in rugby you can make it in life.

12. Rugby was the subject of you Bachelor's and Master of Arts theses. Do you plan to continue your academic studies?
I have written "The vocabulary of Polish rugby players" which was the subject of my B.A. My M.A. focused on the jargon used by rugby players. I have a unique chance to explore the specific language spoken by this group by being its member. No linguist would be allowed access to the changing room before the final, but I took part in such events. I continue my research on my PHD studies. It will be my 3rd dissertation based on rugby but there is plenty to write about!

13. Rugby requires not only a good physical and fitness preparation but also intelligence. Do you find rugby players’ life style or jokes specific to this group?
I love the atmosphere in the team, endless jokes, and pranks. Sometimes we laugh so hard that stomach muscles ache. We can laugh at everything. There is also a good dose of quite strong humour or even black humour involved. Rugby players can laugh at themselves and take a distance from it, which is very positive. Every situation can turn into something comic. The best thing is that rugby players all over the world are the same.

14. Does the rugby player ethos exist?

I think so. Let me come back to the attributes which I've already mentioned. A rugby player has to be committed to the team and willing to help the team members not only on the pitch but also in other life situations. There are two old rules, one for all and all for one and you will never walk alone. You can always rely on the team-mate. Rugby players should behave ‘fair play’ not only on the pitch but also in life in general. Although sometimes there are some dirty moves in rugby games, everyone knows that punishment will come sooner rather than later. Therefore, if you want to play dirty you are putting yourself at high risk. Respect for the rivals and your team-mates is necessary in rugby. Rugby is a stronghold of positive features, which sadly are being slowly forgotten in societies. Keeping it alive is the responsibility of every rugby player.

15. Can you remember any funny situations which happened to you during a rugby game?
I remember that once a referee gave us a free kick and we asked him if we can have a quick scrum. He said yes, so our scrum-half after a quick tap passed the ball to the forwards and the game continued. After the game he said that we confused him well and he didn't know what had actually happened.

16. What is your biggest sport dream?

To be the Champion of Poland with Budowlani Lublin Rugby Club - this is my dream at the club level. Of course, I would also love to qualify to the Rugby World Cup with Poland.

17. I see that you have grown a decent beard. It reminds me of Sebastien Chabal. Is he your idol?

No, he is not, but I think that beard suits a rugby player really well. You look like an unpredictable lumberjack with an oval ball. I also like the NHL ice hockey players' attitude. They stop shaving the moment they qualify to the play-offs. The person who shaves the beard may bring bad luck to the team, so the further your team is in the play-off stage the more powerful are the lucky, winning beards. In the finals, there is usually a pack of bearded men.

18. How is your wife dealing with it?

She did not like it at the beginning, but when I explained that this is a victorious beard she accepted it and even started to like my lumberjack image later on.

19. If Chabal is not you idol who is?

I usually play with number 7 so I really enjoy watching Richie McCaw in action. The amount of work he does in the breakdowns, his outstanding defensive skills and ability to lead his team from one victory to another makes him one of my top rugby role models.

Thank you for answering my questions and good luck in future.

Always a pleasure and good luck to you.