Monday 23 April 2018

'England are just crap. It's depressing the way they play'

Andrew feels wrath of former

David Kelly

David Kelly

John Bentley likes the sound of his own voice, which is just as well because so many of those who know him love it too, a Yorkshire accent so thick it almost needs subtitles.

"I hate being called an Englishman, really," says the 41-year-old ex-England winger. "Call me a Yorkshireman instead." If he hadn't been a rugby player, he would liked to have been a porn star. His favourite drink is always the next one. You can guess he's no Coldplay fan.

An ex-copper from Dewsbury, Bentley debuted against Ireland in the inaugural Millennium Trophy match 22 years ago. Gus Aherne, Vinnie Cunningham, John Sexton and Stevie Smith also debuted for an Irish team on familiar losing duty -- 21-13.

"The greatest day of my life," says Bentley, correcting an older confession that it shared top billing with the day he lost his virginity.

"Two days of build-up, crying during the anthem. I remember a whistle and then I remember another whistle. It was gone and I'd done nothing. I was picked because I was the best but then I did nothing."


It didn't look like he would hang around long enough to make amends. Another cap followed before he handed in his badge -- boy, does he have some tales to tell from the Leeds vice squad -- and took up rugby league.

He played for Great Britain and signed for Leeds, before moving on to Halifax, as well as enjoying a short spell in Australia with Balmain Tigers.

When Rugby Union turned professional, he signed for Newcastle Falcons in 1996, helping them to their first and so far only Premiership title alongside a certain Rob Andrew, currently England manager Martin Johnson's boss.

The same Andrew of whom he wrote, in an autobiography which spares few sacred cows any blushes, "Rob was a crap footballer".

He has more respect for Johnson, with whom he forged a unique relationship on the seminal 1997 Lions series in South Africa, the last great amateur tour, captured memorably -- and predominantly with Bentley behind the camera -- in 'Living With Lions'.

"I'm not too sure what Rob knows but Johnno was right to get involved, I like him. He could do with someone like Ian McGeechan there. Johnno had that authority on that field and I'm sure he now finds it difficult watching the players crossing the line.

"The players are on their own and so they should be, bloody hell. Play what's in front of you. The game's become robotic. It's a simple game made difficult by simple people. It's always about attacking space and if you can't find the space, you have to create some.

"But f***ing England are crap aren't they? But then Ireland didn't play well in France, either. England have got to play together. It's just depressing the way they're playing now."

Bentley stresses he is not selling nostalgia for how the game used to be, merely bemoaning what it has become.

"I'd never knock the game, but Jesus. You've a scrum, 16 of the nastiest filthiest players on the pitch in one little area, there's so much space for a one-one-one. Surely you have to have a go.

"The game has changed. I would play a little differently. I always felt the best ball you could get was a kick reception. Defences are organised, but if you beat the first man, there's loads of space."

Ah, attacking space. How can one forget that arcing, swerving, 80m run against Gauteng for the '97 dirt-trackers? "THAT try," as Keith Wood recalled without prompting this week. Search on YouTube and watch a demonstration of how to attack space on a rugby field.

Wood suffered at Bentley's expense on that tour, laying awake for nights on end after getting a midnight peck on the cheek from his room-mate. So too did many others, as Bentley's proclivity for X-rated material focused on lengthy shots of female gym members or his hilariously doomed attempt to nab Austin Healey in the act of self-pleasuring.

And yet one of the Lions' most memorable moments on the field might never have happened.

Lions captain Johnson had appointed Bentley as his entertainments man. Then 32, Bentley's recall had been a surprise one, but it wasn't until he flopped in a Saturday clash with the Bulls that, for the first time in his life, the funny man got serious. "I looked in the mirror and said to myself, 'Am I just here to play the clown?'."

Bentley was double-jobbing at the time and had coughed up a summer contract with Halifax, which would have earned him much more than the £17,000 he got for touring with the Lions.


He decided he was there to play. And play he did. He made the Test team and his influence was such that James Small refused to shake his hand after the second Test and wrongly accused him of gouging.

Small, from Western Province, had also been out-scored two tries to one in their tour match. Bentley had had the last laugh.

His rugby career faded thereafter, although he picked up two more England caps, and he now spends much of his days doing vital community work on his old police beat as community officer with Leeds Carnegie, as well as predictably popular after-dinner speaking.

"I've always been a big believer in life that if you can smile, you're going to have a good day. You think you have problems? Lack of form? Injury? Well put things in perspective.

"I've always been a maverick, a bit off the wall. Some of the stuff I've said is a load of crap. I'm notorious for standing on my head drinking Guinness.

"I know I can talk a lot and I like the sound of my own voice. I like to have a crack. I'm happy when people say, 'You're just what I expected you to be'. I get it wrong sometimes but I have a wonderful ability to say sorry.

"It doesn't make it right, as I tell my children. But whether it's rugby union or sweeping the streets, the focus has to be on the job you're doing. I'd like to think I've always done mine well."

Irish Independent

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