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Tuesday 23 January 2018

I'm driving Ireland forward... but half the family will be supporting Wales

Sarra Elgan and her husband Simon Easterby Picture: Steve Pope
Sarra Elgan and her husband Simon Easterby Picture: Steve Pope
Gareth Morgan

Gareth Morgan

Simon Easterby's job is to drive the Irish pack to victory at the Principality Stadium in tonight's Six Nations clash with Wales.

But the former Llanelli Scarlets and Ireland flanker (41) admits that there will be divided loyalties at home - as most of his family are Welsh speakers from a strong rugby background.

Having been born in Yorkshire and carved out a professional career in Llanelli, before playing for Ireland, Easterby is a self-described "mongrel".

"To go from Yorkshire to Llanelli was a bit different," he said. "Not many have gone that route before - but these days it's more common that players come from all over the world to play rugby".

Finding his feet in West Wales he went on to marry Sarra Elgan, the TV sports presenter, and they have two children Soffia (10) and Ffredi (8).

The couple juggle work commitments with family time at the converted barn near Cowbridge in the picturesque Vale of Glamorgan just outside Cardiff.

"I married a Welsh girl and the children speak Welsh," Easterby, during a break from training, said.

"Last week was St David's Day and my children go to a Welsh school in Cowbridge. It is a lovely place to bring up the kids and they have all the Welsh celebrations there like the Eisteddfod (music and folk festival).

"It can be hard for them - because they're very much Welsh children! Their grandfather (Elgan Rees) played for Wales too.

"It's difficult for Sarra as well as to where the allegiance lies, but they have an understanding of what's at stake. They know that I'm passionate about rugby generally. Spending so much time in Wales helped make me who I am."

Fortunately, his children of course support their father's work with Ireland and Ffredi in particular clamours to meet his heroes in the Irish team.

"We're passionate about Ireland and everything I've been lucky enough to be involved with for Ireland," he said. "Ffredi especially supports what I do and he's been lucky enough to be around some of the Irish players."

A particular highlight was a family trip to Dublin a fortnight ago, where Soffia's 10th birthday celebrations coincided with the Irish victory over France.

"Her birthday was the day of the match. The family were all over and we had a nice weekend topped off with the win," he said.

But like his former captain Brian O'Driscoll, who saw baby Sadie born on the day of an England match, Easterby knows the demands of mixing international rugby with family life. Soffia's birthday was one such reminder of the glorious victory over England in Croke Park back in 2007. The nation went into raptures, but Easterby didn't have much time to celebrate on that occasion.

"We beat England and Sarra went into labour...I had a rush back to Wales, via Bristol Airport," he said.

Back in his playing days, he admits to some slagging with Welsh club-mates in advance of the Irish fixture.

"But it is slightly different now. I played a lot with Robin McBryde (now Wales forwards coach) and we would stay in touch...but not too much banter this week. We will have a beer after the game," he said.

Irish Independent

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