The happy hooker - Rugby Club
By Jamie Hunt
Last Updated: 01/01/70 1:00am
Recently called up to the England squad, Bath's Lee Mears has good reason to smile.
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Down in Bath, new England recruit Lee Mears has the reputation of being the happy hooker.
He might play golf like the 2004 version of Seve Ballesteros rather than 1984 version, he might have had to sit life out on the bench, he might have to put up with constant rib-tickling from front row friends David Barnes and Duncan Bell, but it is still hard to wipe the smile from his face.
Only when a practical joke telling him Bath had signed Australian hooker Jeremy Paul did he finally lose his sense of humour, but not for long. Not that he hasn't been frustrated at how long it has taken to become a regular in the first team, having understudied Mark Regan, Federico Mendez, Jonathan Humphreys et al.
"There were times when I thought I might have to leave but with the contract you can't always do that," he said. "And then (coach) Michael Foley came in and he set me a few goals and said if you achieve this, I will pick you, and if you work on this part of your game, your game will get better and I just tried to do those things and hopefully he has made me a more rounded player. He has helped me a lot."
One area of concern in the English game is the amount of ball that goes missing at the lineout. This season the Rugby Club worked out that Mears has thrown 42 balls in at the lineout and only three of those have ended up behind enemy lines. It can't all be down to locks Danny Grewcock and Steve Borthwick.
This is a statistic that gives England coach Andy Robinson a tough decision to make as to whether Mears or Northampton's Steve Thompson should be England's first choice hooker according to Bath coach John Connolly.
"I think it is a 50-50 call for Robinson," he said. "I think it is probably given that Mears' lineout throwing is better than Thompson's, I think his scrummaging is probably ahead of his, he is a good little ball carrier - statistics show he carries twice as much as any other hooker in the Premiership. Thompson has the experience. So it'll be a close call for both of them."
Despite encouraging words from his coach, Mears has respect for Thomspon and patience.
"Thommo is a great hooker, he has lots and lots of caps and he has won the World Cup," said Mears, who though has other friends in the game, most notably in the Rugby Club studio, where Stuart Barnes was quick to sing his praises.
Barnes said: "He is a very good player. You hear a lot of nonsense talked about hookers sometimes, and they say he is not big enough.
"What you have to remember about Steve Thompson is that he has done phenomenally well being an international hooker, being as tall as he is. Height is not a strength as a hooker, when you think back to a lot of great hookers likes Bobby Windsor and Brian Moore, they were not big guys. Connolly says he is a good scrummager, that is because he is in a better position for scrummaging.
"At the moment when you think about the outstanding hooker in world rugby, it is Kevin Mealamu, there is nothing of him in terms of height, but in terms of impact, there is so much to him. Lee Mears is certainly not at that level, but he is an English player who does that sort of thing."