'The likes of Ted Hill, Ollie Lawrence, these boys are specimens'
After weeks of headline-generating hype about Mike Brown supposedly being in line to face his old club Harlequins last Sunday for Newcastle, a head-to-head ultimately cancelled due to a rib injury, this Saturday it is the turn of Worcester front-rower Scott Baldwin, another recent title winner, to go up against his old London pals. Unlike Brown, this is a face-off that will happen as the ex-Wales international is set to start at hooker back at The Stoop.
The curiosity, though, is why the heck Baldwin chose to join the Warriors in the first place. Only for the moratorium on relegation getting voted into the Premiership earlier this year, Worcester would be plying their trade this term down in the Championship. Their results were terrible last season, just one on-pitch win secured – and that came on opening day last November at home to London Irish.
They have managed to repeat that trick the second time around, defeating London Irish again at Sixways last Saturday in another round one encounter, but there is no guarantee that things will now improve compared to 2020/21. It begs the question what the hell is 33-year-old Baldwin doing at Worcester when he could have remained on at Harlequins where he played an important part in their second-ever Premiership title win last June?
The reason for the switch was three-fold – an easier commuting distance to Wales, the potential he felt Worcester had when playing them last season for Harlequins, and his long-term aim to get into coaching under the wing of Jonathan Thomas, his old pal from his Ospreys days.
“Yes, I’m commuting over, staying up on a Monday and Thursday night generally,” explained Baldwin to RugbyPass about his weekly schedule across the Severn bridge. “Something I struggled with in the earlier part of my career was that work/life balance and I have a pretty addictive personality, so it’s nice now to just be able to get home, enjoy being with my family and switching off from work when I am out of the work environment.”
'I never intended to be as honest as I was in that conversation'@scottbaldwin2 's gambling addiction started properly in Italy and went unnoticed for years, but his house of cards eventually collapsed, writes @heagneyl ???https://t.co/10PPbghSF0
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) May 16, 2021
Most players would have run a mile on getting an offer to join a team that was getting beaten on a weekly basis. They would have viewed it as a step-down in their career. Not Baldwin, though, who saw nothing but merit in the approach he had from Worcester. “I think so,” agreed Baldwin about the likelihood of other players turning their back on a club in the bad habit of losing, “but I also think at Christmas time when I made the decision, there was a lot of rugby to be played.
“We got on a great run at Quins at the end of last season and it was a great way to leave a club, but also I knew there were players coming in this season at Worcester and it was going to be a different squad. JT inherited the squad that he had and that is nothing against the players that he had but he had a vision going forward which was a three, five-year plan.
“You have seen with the result last weekend, you have got to look at some of the young players coming through. I remember we played Worcester last season when I was at Harlequins, the likes of Ted Hill, Ollie Lawrence, and these boys. They are specimens. Ted was unbelievable at the weekend as was Ollie. It’s nurturing that talent and bringing it through with the experience we have got in the likes of Owen Williams, Matt Garvey, Willi Heinz, the old dog who showed up really well on the weekend.”
With Harlequins having been in the doldrums last winter, a slump that led to the exit of Paul Gustard before they rebounded to win the Premiership title, Baldwin knows only too well the value of the confidence that winning can generate. It’s something he hopes can now materialise at Worcester after their promising start to the new season.
“Confidence is massive and something I learnt at Quins is you have to enjoy what you do. Yes, it is a serious job. Yes, there is a lot on the line but you also have to enjoy it. You have to play with a smile on your face and that was probably a little bit missing last year. Losses would do that. Then a couple of wins and you’d get a little bit of confidence – and confidence is massive in rugby.
“From a hooker’s point of view, that first lineout of the game gives you confidence if you hit double top but if you lose the first one you go into yourself a little bit, you have got a little bit of doubt in your head and the momentum is huge in rugby. It’s such a strange sport.
“There are probably not many other sports in terms of any team can beat anyone on the day and if you look at a lot of Worcester’s results last season they were very close and probably confidence was a difference going into those last 20 minutes.”
What has Baldwin brought so far to the party at Worcester, where the 4G pitch they use is different to what he had known previously at his other clubs? “Training on the artificial pitch is a lot faster but it is a lot easier, it’s more consistent. I’m just trying to raise the standards, especially the set piece. I want to nail down a marker.
“We were particularly happy with how the squad went last weekend but there are always work-ons and something I always pride myself on is my ability to execute my set-piece roles, so trying to drive those standards, not just in games but in training as well.
“I haven’t minded it [the artificial pitch] in training so much but I haven’t really experienced it over a long period of time. Last season I didn’t have any issue when I was playing on grass and then transitioning into an artificial pitch, I’m neither here nor there on it at the moment.”
In time, Baldwin wants to switch into the coaching sphere but at the moment it’s all about getting the best out of himself on the pitch. “I’m purely playing at the minute. Hopefully, I have got a few good years left yet. I am having chats with the coaches on some ideas I feel might work but ultimately we have got a great coaching group here and I am probably picking their brains more than they are picking mine at the moment.”
“I genuinely have heard that…”
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) September 21, 2021
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