Talking to Peter Stringer on the eve of the new Aviva Premiership season, it would not be immediately obvious that he is about to embark on his 20th professional campaign.
“I’m ready to play, and I’m ready to play 80 minutes every weekend,” Stringer tells ESPN. “I want to keep playing the game for as long as I can because you’re not going to have it forever.”
His eyes flicker with excitement as he contemplates the challenges ahead and it is clear that his passion for the game remains undimmed. The sense that he is set for a new chapter in Worcester only added to by the groomed beard that has been allowed to grow in over the off-season.
Worcester Warriors director of rugby Gary Gold has challenged his players to earn respect as they bid to become a stable Aviva Premiership force.
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Stringer has signed an initial deal with the Warriors until the end of December — by which time the scrum-half will be 40 — but there is a desire to prolong his playing days even further.
“Maybe in the next five or six years, when I’m still going, you might get a bit of special treatment,” he says when considering a question about preseason — you’re inclined to believe him, and that he means in the Premiership.
“I can never see myself finishing playing, that’s probably the thing. I can always see myself playing, and I have that ambition and I have that motivation to keep going.
“I still feel good physically, and mentally I feel I’m still up for the challenge.”
Warriors director of rugby Gary Gold worked with Stringer at both Newcastle and Bath, and was a big factor — alongside former Ireland and Munster teammate Donnacha O’Callaghan — in his decision to head to Sixways. Gold has been impressed with the veteran scrum-half’s impact on his teammates.
“Ordinarily I would never be signing a 39-year-old rugby player,” Gold says. “But he’s not a regular 39-year-old.
“He’s a supreme athlete, he’s looked after himself in an immense way. He trains really well, can keep up with everybody, can play the game at tempo and so he shouldn’t be discriminated against.”
Stringer is one of few remaining players who experienced rugby’s old school. Making the step up to the Munster first team while professionalism was still in its infancy he remembers a time when teams had to get by without specialist coaches or GPS stats.
Stringer signed for Worcester over the summer on a deal that will take him past his 40th birthday. Julian Finney/Getty Images
He says it has “been nice to see the different stages” of rugby’s development, and feels there could still be some room for growth. But while he believes players have become more professional in their stance towards alcohol, he thinks the team-bonding night out still has a place in the modern game.
“You’re always going to have guys who are going to have a couple of pints, and I think that’s 100 percent natural,” Stringer says. “That’s how you get to know guys.
“I suppose it’s just knowing you’re not taking things one step too far. But certainly, it is part of the game but not as it was back in the day when you’d be having guys out midweek and whatever.
“Guys are in a professional environment, they know they want to be selected, contracts are on the line, livelihoods are on the line. So, it’s a case of guys looking after themselves and making sure that they’re in a position to play well on a Saturday.”
Stringer admits that it is only natural to pass down information and experiences that he has picked up in the 19 years since his Munster debut to the next generation of players. But, while coaching is something that interests him, he is not quite ready for a change in role just yet.
“My ambitions this year are very much to play and to make Worcester as successful as possible,” he says.
Stringer knows only too well that dreams don’t last forever, and when looking back at his stellar career, it is possible to divide it into two distinct parts.
The first, from his Munster debut against Ulster in October, 1998 until his departure for a loan spell at Saracens over 13 years later, was one of unparalleled success. Two Heineken Cups, three PRO12 titles and 98 Ireland caps were garnered but the emergence of Conor Murray meant that game time became limited.
Peter Stringer in action for Munster in the 1999 Heineken Cup before making his debut for Ireland the following year. Sportsfile/Corbis via Getty Images
Playing on a European stage with Saracens revitalised Stringer, but it didn’t help him find a way back into the Munster side and another loan spell followed with Newcastle before a permanent move to Bath materialised in January, 2013.
Stringer never wanted to leave Munster but admits that while the decision to leave Ireland was a difficult one, in terms of his career it was straightforward. Playing in the Premiership has given the scrum-half a new lease of life.
“You find yourself not in the matchday squad with Munster at the end of 2012 and you look at the opportunities that are elsewhere,” Stringer says. “You’re faced with these challenges and the burning desire to be out there playing outweighs certainly where I was at the time.
“I just wanted to get to an environment where I felt at home again, felt comfortable, and that’s out on the pitch playing rugby.”
He is confident he has found that again having swapped Sale for Worcester over the summer. He might only have signed a short-term deal, at present, but Stringer is determined to ensure that the Warriors are not involved in another relegation battle this season.
“I know everybody here at the club has that ambition to push up the table and to strive for bigger things,” he says. “There’s a great buzz, a great environment in the place at the moment and just to get back to winning ways and start the season really, really well.
“Look, personal pride in my own performance as well over the next six months, I just don’t want to drop my own standards from where I have been. That’s motivation enough for me.”
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