Saints team-mates: Lennie Newman

Lennie Newman made his Saints debut in 1982 and made 125 appearances for the club.

By Tom Vickers
Saturday, 4th April 2020, 7:00 am
Lennie Newman
Lennie Newman

He also went on the become team manager, and here he reflects on those he played alongside and worked with during his time at Franklin's Gardens...

Who was the best player you played with at Saints?

It has to be Wayne (Buck) Shelford. Loads of others on my list: Tim Rodber, Gary Pearce and of course my old mate (although it grieves me to say it) Ian Hunter, who would be my backs choice. Hunts would be a very, very close second place to Buck, who was an incredible player, ahead of his time. I captained Buck for his first six games in the Wanderers, as he couldn’t play for the Saints due to the RFU as an overseas player. He made an impact because when he came out of the Wanderers so did I and we played the next couple of seasons together. I remember my first sight of him in the showers (ooh err) and I had never seen a back that looked like he had had been whipped, forty lashes across his back, good old-fashioned rucking! Remember this is a man who had his nether regions split open by a stray boot in the infamous 'Battle of Nantes' when France played the All Blacks and he famously had stitches and a stock take, then went back into action. A brilliant leader, great player who could take on a complete forward pack, such was his charisma. He wasn’t with us long and towards the end his legs couldn’t carry him as swiftly as before, but a great man who I still meet when he’s over and class as a friend.

Buck Shelford

Who was the toughest?

It would be quite easy to say it was Buck again but one player who always springs to mind is Paul Alston. An uncompromising back rower who was always the enforcer and never took a backward step. He had the most deviously devious way of flooring opponents (not so legal these days) and was someone not to be messed with. My close second would be Ian 'Bodger' Heyward, a prop forward who took no prisoners. Still holds the record for playing every game for 80 mins in a complete season.

Who was the most skillful?

It would have to be Matt Dawson. He joined us as a centre/fly-half and ended up as a World Cup winning scrum-half. He was comfortable in any position and was a good goal kicker also.

Matt Dawson

As a manager and my ultimate number one, it would be Carlos Spencer. I’ve never witnessed such an amazing ball player, some would say a maverick but he was just out of this world and streets ahead of anyone else in world rugby. A coach’s nightmare as he would often go off plan as he didn’t know what he was doing next, the trouble being nor did his team! Also, the most professional trainer of his generation.

Who was the kitman's nightmare?

In my playing days, it was the wonderful Nigel 'Foxy' Fox. Getting a shirt to fit his frame was a special order due to his re-hydration and dietary regime. He was surprisingly nimble, always finished every part of our fitness sessions - not necessarily at the same time! - and unbelievably skillful for a prop. The modern-day player would be Soane Tonga'uiha as he was just a fantastic human specimen, a huge man with special order shorts and shirts. Andrew Blowers also had to have special shorts with no waistband elastic to protect a problematic disc issue.

Who was the best dancer?

Nick Beal

Piggy Powell always used to organise our Disco Bus towards the end of his career, and I remember fondly us dancing in the aisles on the way back from away games. In the modern area, that’s a difficult one, but I do seem to remember that Paul Grayson could do a brilliant breakdance snake across the floor when he was called upon. Brett Sturgess always thought he could dance but ended up looking like a dancing penguin!

Who was the worst dresser?

Where do I start?! It must go to Matt Dawson. He had just hit the England scene and I remember him leaving Franklin's Gardens post-match in a purple velvet suit and a hat (Quentin Crisp style) which your grandma would wear. The lads thought he was going to a fancy dress, but it emerged he was genuinely dressing for a 'London night out'!

Who was the biggest drinker?

I’m going to have to give this to the front row combination of Nigel Fox, Ian Heyward and Trevor Crane. Trevor had finished playing with a neck injury but became our coach and I remember the call was always 'seven by seven' which then followed with every other pint being accompanied with a 'Blue Lagoon chaser' or a Crème de menthe shandy. Messy, very messy, but great times.

Who had the worst chat?

Again, where do I start?! Playing days, it must be Tex Heaver, what a lovely man who never shuts up. Affectionately known as 'Terete Tex', he’s the only man who you would be able to take to a Siberian prison and he would know the prison officer! The other would be Johnny Howard who just couldn’t help himself and inevitably his chat would get him in trouble. A typically gobby nine

Who was Mr Vain?.

I think all sportsmen like to think they look their best but two people come to mind, firstly a guy called Nick Dyte, a huge man who played on the wing and then moved into the second row where he played really well in that position. Loved his rugby but not quite as much as he loved himself. The other is the ultimate charmer: Mark 'Sharky' Robinson. He had the best body fat percentage we had ever seen (not dissimilar to myself). Pretty vain, but again a lovely man. Some would say a proper ladies man!

Who had the best hairstyle?

This has to go to one of my old team-mates called Jacko Page. Jacko was a great scrum-half with a boot that put Nick Beal to shame. He lost all his hair at a very early age and decided to go the full peanut shiny head. No one took any notice, and everyone was quite used to this until he decided he would wear a wig. Can you imagine the changing room when he walked in? To this day I remember the laughter as he took it off and hung it on his peg. He was deadly serious and couldn’t see the funny side and certainly didn’t when after the game the hair piece had been stolen from his changing area! It was then seen all around the club in different areas for the next two weeks. Brilliant!

Who was the grumpiest?

There's only one to choose from - and that’s Nick Beal. The squad called him Victor Meldrew as his cup was always half empty and he would always be moaning about something or someone. The strange thing is that he’s not actually grumpy at all! He's one of the nicest, most balanced men you will meet. His standards were set very high and he didn’t suffer fools gladly. He still laughs at the title and was always the first to admit it when he was especially grumpy. A good man.

Who was the best singer?

There’s only one in my book - and that is Geoff 'Dougal' Wright who always belted out the songs, loved his Elvis and did a great cover of 'Running Bear' and 'Riders on The Storm'. Jim Mallinder could also belt out a song which always ended with him getting his top off on some of our bus trips coming home.

Who was the leader?

Gary Pearce was a fine captain. He led from the front, a quiet man whose actions spoke louder than his very few words. A corner stone of the team and stayed faithful to the club even when his head was turned by other clubs. I always talk about the 'Ready Brek' men who lead naturally and have that light, that aura around them like the Ready Brek advert. Up there on my list are Buck Shelford, Tim Rodber and Pat Lam. They led the way and you just followed.

Who was the coach's favourite?

In my playing days the call of favouritism was always aimed at certain players whose fathers were either coaches or selectors. During the mid-eighties we had Ian (Chalky) White (son of Don - club chairman), Ross Turnell (son of Dick Turnell - head selector) and Ashley Johnson (son of Andy Johnson – selector and team secretary) and it was always a well worn theme that it was due to this nepotism that they were in the side. This was unfair as they were all good players in their own right, but you could imagine the chat from players who just happened to also play in their positions. It's always difficult when your father is the boss, very similar to Thomas Young, when Dai was at Wasps, the Ford boys with father Mike and our own Harry and Jim Mallinder. The one I always think of was during Wayne Smith's coaching era... John Lesley, one of the first kilted Kiwis, was a great player but even if he had an off day, he was almost bulletproof in the coach’s eyes and rarely got left out of the team. In fairness to JL, he was brilliant at running the back line alongside our 10s at the time and was defensively strong. I also think he was kept in the side because he was probably the most laid-back man I’ve ever met. A lover of reggae, Bob Marley and anything Jamaican, therein probably lies a tale! He even named his son Jack Marley Leslie.