Busy year for Chuter

George Chuter will hurl himself into the seething cauldron of a Heineken Cup showdown between Leicester and Munster on Sunday as proof that sporting life can begin at 30. [more]

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George Chuter will hurl himself into the seething cauldron of a Heineken Cup showdown between Leicester and Munster on Sunday as proof that sporting life can begin at 30.

Chuter admits he has "been around the block a bit" during a 10-year rugby career highlighted by Saracens’ 1998 English knockout cup success when his Twickenham team-mates included world superstars Philippe Sella, Francois Pienaar and Michael Lynagh.

More than 200 first-team appearances for Saracens and Leicester have been clocked up, together with a double-figure tally of England A games, but the next 12 months could comfortably eclipse all his previous achievements.

Munster, the Millennium Stadium and World Cup favourites New Zealand can be viewed on Chuter’s short-term radar – and then it gets really busy.

Having made an England Test breakthrough in Australia earlier this year – he featured during both losing Tests against the Wallabies and scored a full-debut try – autumn internationals, RBS 6 Nations action and the 2007 World Cup defence are now major career targets.

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And Tigers hooker Chuter, who turned 30 three months ago, believes the "Leicester culture" has helped develop him into a player whose best days are potentially still ahead.

"When I arrived at Leicester around Christmas, 2000, I had come from a quite successful Saracens side, but there was just a different culture at Leicester," he said.

"You go to Leicester, and the forwards go off in training and do their own thing in the corner – whether that’s scrummaging, lineouts, brawling or whatever.

"Mentally and physically, it toughens you up and has brought an edge to my game. When you are around guys like Martin Johnson, Neil Back and Martin Corry, if you don’t follow their lead, then the chances are you are not going to last very long.

"There have been players down the years who’ve arrived at Leicester with great reputations, but they have been and gone in one or two years.

"I am quite proud I came into that and changed my game, changed my approach to rugby and fitted in. I’ve had some great times with some fantastic leaders."

Chuter also praises the contributions made by ex-Leicester bosses Dean Richards and John Wells – Wells is now England forwards coach – to his development.

"I had Dean Richards in my ear all the time, John Wells as well, telling me to be a leader and to have that leadership responsibility," he added.

"It was difficult for me, and probably took two or three years for me to be comfortable with that.

"I am quite an outgoing character, but I am not the sort of guy who is in your face, telling people what to do. How do you tell guys like Martin Johnson to jump higher in the lineout or push harder in the scrum? It was weird.

"I owe Dean and ‘Wellsy’ a lot, especially in terms of developing the mental side of my game."

Chuter is likely to oppose rival hookers Jerry Flannery and Cardiff Blues’ Rhys Thomas – two possible Six Nations rivals – during the opening rounds of Heineken Cup action.

Solid displays against both of them could secure an England starting place for the November 5 appointment with New Zealand, although Bath’s Lee Mears and World Cup winner Steve Thompson, who has just returned to training with Northampton after injury, also feature heavily in this season’s selection mix.

"It is a huge season for English rugby and the potential England players," said Chuter.

"It is exciting and it is going to be a pretty high-pressured 12 months or so, when you will find out what you are made of.

"It is always nice to get the monkey off your back and get a cap. The Australian tour turned out quite well for me, and I think I proved in the summer that I am capable of playing international rugby, which was a big step for me."

England’s preparations to meet the All Blacks though, were hit by injuries during their Loughborough University sessions earlier this month, and Chuter is well aware of the physical demands faced by leading professional players.

"Everyone in the (England) squad appreciates that injuries happen – rugby is not a contact sport, it is a collision sport – and you are going to get injuries that keep guys out," he added.

"It is an unrecognisable game compared to the game I started playing 10 years ago at Saracens, when it was pretty much semi-professional.

"Even the game from three years ago, it has moved on considerably because guys are getting bigger, faster and stronger, while the laws are making the game a bit more fluid.

"As you get older, you feel the knocks for longer in the week. It used to take me 24 hours to get over a game, and now, I am finding myself still feeling a bit sore on Tuesday and Wednesday, but it’s part of the game."

And as for the small matter of a Heineken Cup opener against holders Munster at a sold-out Welford Road?

Chuter said: "I have played in a lot of European games when guys like Martin Johnson have come off the field and said it was as intense as an international match, and if he says that to me, then I am inclined to believe him!"

Sunday, you sense, will provide another of those memorable high-octane occasions.

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