Sunday 11 December 2016

Meet the saxophone-playing, Elvis-loving hooker who used to hit himself with a cricket bat

Published 09/04/2011 | 05:00

What if George Chuter had never encountered the diversion once wonderfully illustrated by Robert Frost? How altered might his life have been?

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Had he taken a diverse road in the woods, it is quite probable he would be chopping away down the lower order with Kent's second XI and wailing away weekends on a sax in a jazzy bar.

Or maybe he could have been a Shaolin master? After all, Chuter perfected the art of self-flagellation with a chunky clump of willow as a youngster, something akin to the Shaolin monks' self-defence preparations.

"I used to do that as a kid," confirms the 34-year-old Leicester hooker. "For some reason, I could whack the bat off a certain part of the skull and feel no pain. It made everyone else laugh and it didn't bother me much ... It seems strange now but at the time it was perfectly normal!"

accurate

You wonder whether it may have affected his darts down the years? "Nah, if anything, my throwing in the line-out has probably got much better!" His timing is usually accurate. The Chuter family couldn't miss the time of their son's arrival into the world. After all, he was delivered at 3.0pm GMT on July 9 ... in Greenwich.

Growing up three miles from Selhurst Park, the Chuters paraded no interest in football. These were cricketing folk. George's late father could have played for Kent; he starred with Derek Underwood and Alan Knott in the schoolboys but an architectural degree had prevailed when professional terms were proffered.

"I played cricket until I was about 15 when rugby took over," recalls the England international of 24 caps.

"I was an all-rounder but they never let me bowl as much as I wanted, so I batted probably four or five.

"Honestly, I had the skill for the game but I didn't have the mental fortitude required to grind stuff out and concentrate for hours on end. Which is probably why I ended up playing rugby, it was more instantaneous and less of a grind. I wasn't as good as I could have been at cricket. I do miss it though.

"Even though I grew up in south London, I never enjoyed football, I'd just play cricket all year round. Then I was introduced to rugby. I started to watch it on TV -- well, all you had was the Five Nations -- so I just fell into it.

"I enjoyed the physical side of it, the training, and I got fairly handy at it. I played for county and stuff at 16 so I kind of knew this was the sport for me."

But not yet a profession. Chuter wanted to be a teacher and he enrolled at Brunel University to do a teaching degree via sports studies and literature, where he combined social rugby at Old Mid-Whitgiftians.

Then professionalism happened. Saracens invited him to have a trial and his life changed. "They offered me a deal and I took it," says Chuter. Suddenly, he was a professional rugby player.

Five years later, he took a time out. This is where music enters our story. It was 2000 and though he wanted to go to the Sydney Olympics, he also wanted to visit the shrine of one of his heroes, Elvis Presley.

"I went to Graceland," he recalls. "I had loved his music since I was a kid, I loved all kinds of music really because I would watch my Dad doing his drawings for hours on end.

"And he'd always have music on, Elvis, Buddy, Simon & Garfunkel, Dylan, anything. He was a hippy at heart, really. I'd sit there watching him, taking it all in. And my Mum was a country fan, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash. So I was surrounded by it. I played a lot of sax in school. I suppose, like the cricket, I just let it slip away. It really annoys me sometimes that I let that happen.

"Graceland was amazing though. It's in this really run-down area of Memphis, you're expecting something completely different. It's got nothing on some of those places on MTV Cribs. But for a fan, it was just awesome. The Jungle Room! Incredible stuff. I'm glad I did that."

When he returned, he made an even better decision. Saracens had offered him a deal but he decided to join Leicester instead; now Chuter himself is an institution at the club. He is the club's chief comedian and he can even indulge his musical fantasies occasionally in the company of his team-mates.

competitor

But don't be fooled; Chuter remains an arch-competitor and is eyeing a title double and a place in England's World Cup squad; he was angry to be deemed Mark Regan's understudy as the 2007 competition entered its defining stages.

"The Heineken Cup is the biggest tournament in the northern hemisphere. We're up against one of the favourites. This is why you play for Leicester or Leinster, to play in front of thousands and in front of millions on TV.

"Everyone in the world wants to see what happens. We don't play to turn out on a mucky Tuesday for a line-out session. We play for occasions like Saturday. We've all been here before but it's really irrelevant until the 80 minutes starts. We know each other pretty well, so it's really who can bring their game.

"I've signed a new two-year deal ... yeah I can think about the World Cup finally. People have been asking me for the last year and you keep saying it's in the back of your mind. Now it's nearly upon me and games like this give you the opportunity to prepare for that.

"If you play well in games like this, that will give you the chance to play for England, but there's an awful lot of rugby left in this season yet."

And an awful lot left in Chuter, too, one suspects.

Irish Independent

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