ALI PRICE is a friend of Matt Smith’s as well as a former Glasgow team-mate, and was in touch with the now-retired forward during lockdown. Yet even he was unaware of how badly Smith was struggling with his mental health until, in an interview earlier this week on the website Rugby Pass, the 23-year-old revealed he had been severely depressed and had had thoughts of taking his own life.
Price was far from alone in being surprised by how difficult things had become for Smith, who announced his retirement from rugby in June. That fact alone suggests there is a need within the sport for greater awareness about players’ mental health – and Price believes that his ex-colleague’s courage in opening up about his problems will help increase that awareness.
“I didn’t know how he was feeling, and I’d like to say I’ve been pretty close with him now and during lockdown,” the Warriors and Scotland scrum-half said. “There’s a few of us who live by ourselves, Matt being one, so I got quite close to him during lockdown, but never realised how bad he was struggling when he was playing.
“In terms of support it’s something that’s starting to be more aware to players, that we’re able to talk to doctors, to talk to these people, and we shouldn’t be afraid to do that. What Matt said was brilliant, and it’ll make it easier for players feeling a similar way to speak to people.
“If you talk to him now, the weight off his chest . . . . OK, he might not be doing something he adores now, but he’s in a better place mentally sharing and getting it out there. Nothing but admiration for him over the last couple of months: that’s going to help a lot of people.”
One prominent problem for Smith, both at Glasgow and then when he was briefly on loan to Edinburgh, was the lack of game time. When the primary purpose of your working life is to play for your team, being denied that outlet is clearly a difficult issue to deal with, as Price knows well.
“It is something that any human would struggle with, the disappointment of not being picked, not being able to run around and do what you can do because you’re injured,” he continued. “Your friends say ‘Why are you moaning? You’ve got the dream job’. Well yes, it is if things are going well for you, but every weekend that’s only for 23 guys and we’ve got big squads.
“That’s a lot of people missing out for whatever reason they haven’t been picked, and that is tough. Five or six weeks in a row sat on the sidelines, that’s not the dream job. You don’t get into it to be watching, really.”
A welcome return to some sort of normality
Having been able to do no more than individual training over recent months, Price is now back with the bulk of the Glasgow squad at Scotstoun, and counting down eagerly to the double-header against Edinburgh towards the end of next month. “It’s good to be back. It was a strange period of time for a few months, but it’s been pretty exciting to get the ball back in the hands and start running around with a few of the boys anyway. This week especially back at Scotstoun has really helped.
“The thing I struggled with [during lockdown] was the lack of routine. Once I got to grips with that, once I got my routine in place, I quite enjoyed it, to be honest. Mentally it was really nice: the pressure every week of being judged for selection, you didn’t have to worry about that with no games. It was hard in some ways but in other ways, mentally and physically for example, it felt great, refreshing.”
The other refreshing element at work these days has been the arrival of head coach Danny Wilson. Dave Rennie’s successor has not made radical changes yet, but there have been subtle alterations which Price thinks will help the team’s overall approach without compromising their attacking instincts.
“Like when Dave came in before, it’s a change of energy. Danny is excited to be back in a head-coaching role.
“I think there’s been a slight twist in our mentality of how we’re going to play. We always want to stick to our strengths at Glasgow and that’s not going to change in terms of our attack is one of the top two in the league. I think it’s just a mind set, especially towards halfway, going out of our half, how we want to play the game.
“A couple of stats we got shown around . . . . I think it’s a third of the tries we conceded came off our own turnovers, and generally turnovers come from overplaying against good opposition or in tough conditions. So I think a mind set around being the team that forces mistakes from the opposition in the right areas of the field will definitely be something that we’re looking to change a little bit.”
More immediately, one significant change will come at the start of next week, when Glasgow will be able to train together as a full group for the first time since March. “I think on Monday we’re finally together for the first time. We’re in a couple of groups at the moment of 17, 18 players. We’ve not been together as a whole unit.
“A lot of us remain from the leadership group from the previous year or two – I’m in there, Ryan Wilson, Fraser Brown, Pete Horne, Sam Johnson and Adam [Hastings]. Tommy [Seymour] was in it last year as well. So a lot of the core leadership group has stayed there. On Monday when we’re all together as a group we’ll start to get an idea of what it’s going to look like for the season.”