Comeback king Nutley shows why rugby was the right choice
Ben Nutley laughs when the suggestion is made that he might have found life easier if he'd stuck with football.
The blond-haired back row forward was a goalkeeper in Luton Town’s youth team, but switched sports and made his way into the Saints Academy.
But at the age of 24, the brutality of the modern game has taken plenty of chunks out of the talented flanker.
His most recent injury came in a friendly against Cornish Pirates at Franklin’s Gardens, where Nutley tore his MCL (medial collateral ligament).
He was forced to miss the first 10 matches of the season before making his return from the bench in the Anglo-Welsh Cup win against Gloucester on November 12.
And he then got much longer at Sixways last week, putting in a superb display as he replaced Sam Dickinson after just 11 minutes in a nail-biting 18-17 success.
It was a yet another reminder of Nutley’s talent as his energy, enthusiasm and quality carried Saints to victory.
He was clearly enjoying every minute, but does he sometimes things it might have been an altogether more comfortable existence had he chosen football rather than rugby as his career?
“Sometimes,” he said, smiling broadly. “It wouldn’t have been as physical and I could have ended up getting paid more, but, no, I love what I do.
“There was a reason I chose rugby and you never know, I could not have made it in football and here I am, playing for one of the top rugby clubs in England and loving life.
“Obviously sometimes when people ask you the question you think, ‘yeah, I could have had a cushty life’, but the adrenalin of playing rugby is unlike any other sport.”
Nutley always makes an impact whenever he plays for Saints, with one of his stand-out performances coming in the Champions Cup quarter-final defeat at Saracens last season.
On that day, Nutley and fellow back row forward Teimana Harrison took the fight to the team who would eventually be double winners.
And Nutley again showed the same sort of desire in the win at Worcester, belying his lack of game time.
“It’s what we do for a living so I knew what I was doing,” he said.
“I wasn’t expecting 70 minutes and it was unfortunate that Sam Dickinson got injured because he was playing well and captaining the side.
“It was bad for him, but it was a plus for me and I enjoyed it.
“You want to play rugby and I’ve had a bit of time on the sidelines but had 20 minutes the week before and got three times as much at Worcester.
“It was a good win and a good team performance.
“It is a team game and I can’t do half the things I do if I don’t get passed the ball.
“It is nice when you’ve been out for a while to get good feedback, but if I’d played well and we’d lost, I wouldn’t be sitting here smiling.
“I’ve taken my opportunity and hopefully I can carry on doing that.”
Nutley’s attitude is admirable and the affable character’s positivity has clearly been key in his recovery from some very serious injuries.
“Some people tell me to books and things like that, but it’s not something I can control,” said the Luton-born player when asked how he deals with setbacks.
“They’re not muscular injuries, which I could prevent, they’re ligaments, they’re bones and that’s something you can’t control.
“The minute I did my knee, I knew. Luckily it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, but it was three months where I wasn’t going to play and there’s no point in fretting.
“Obviously you watch the games and you get frustrated because you want to be out there, but there’s not much you can do other than improve yourself while you get back fit.
“It is tough at times because it’s what you enjoy doing, what you love and you do it as a job, but it’s something you can’t control.
“You’ve got to deal with it and I’m much better at dealing with it now because the first and second time it happened I was very down about it, but that’s not the way to deal with it.
“I got a bit emotional when I got injured in pre-season because I knew I’d done something bad, but you can’t sit back because it is easy to get into that negative mindset of ‘it’s happened again and it will happen again after that’.
“But it’s part and parcel of the sport and rugby gets more and more physical every year.
“It’s my sixth year and it gets harder every year.
“Your body adapts, you get stronger and fitter, and you have to stay positive, not just for yourself, but for the team.
“If the other players see you down, it brings them down, and it’s the same with your family.
“I’ve got better with it over the years and a lot of people can learn from it. Tom Stephenson is unlucky as I am and he’s a positive guy as well so that’s the way to be.”
Nutley embraces his role as a mentor to other players who have endured injury issues.
And he said: “I get called old boy - and I’m only 24. I know my face has taken a few knocks, though.
“Reece Marshall recently did the same injury as me and as a younger person you’ve been in their shoes.
“It’s the same when you’re playing and with people like Lewis Ludlum coming through in my position, you want to help them, you want to talk to them because I’ve been there.
“I had Phil Dowson, Calum Clark, Tom Wood, three top players, helping me through my younger career. You could easily look at someone in your position and shun them but we’re a good squad here and we get on with each other, on and off the pitch.”
And Nutley certainly takes advice from the coaches.
He explained: “Nobby (forwards coach Dorian West) tells me all the time that you’ve only got one shot at this life and you don’t want to let it go.
“I love having my opportunity and taking it, and hopefully I can get a run of games now.
“Even when those international boys come back, I want to make them strive harder to get their position back because I’m playing so well.”