URC: Benetton v Edinburgh: level-headed Jamie Ritchie reflects on a “strange” year

Flanker's usually ice-cool facade cracked slightly when he was named capital club's player-of-the-season by his coaches

Jamie Ritchie flanked by Edinburgh head coach Sean Everitt and Scottish Building Society CEO Paul Denton at the capital club's awards night last weekend. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk
Jamie Ritchie flanked by Edinburgh head coach Sean Everitt and Scottish Building Society CEO Paul Denton at the capital club's awards night last weekend. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk

JAMIE RITCHIE’s usually unflappable public persona definitely wobbled when he was named Edinburgh’s Player-of-the-Season as selected by the club’s coaches [and sponsored by Scottish Building Society] at last Saturday night’s awards dinner at the EICC in the Fountainbridge area of the capital.

His voice cracked during his acceptance speech as he reflected on what he described at the time as “a strange year”. Up until that point, he had done a remarkable job during all his public appearances of batting away questions about Scotland’s World Cup flop, about his form, about the hurt of being dropped as Scotland captain and about the frustration of no longer being an automatic pick for the national team, exhibiting a jovial equanimity that would leave a casual observer wondering if any of it really bothered the flanker at all.

It was a long way from a full breakdown in front of a crowded room on Saturday night – the retiring WP Nel was the player who really went through the emotional wringer after being awarded the ‘Caullie Lug’ by the fans for ‘embodying the true spirit of Edinburgh Rugby’ – but Ritchie definitely showed that there had been a toll to the rockiest year of his career to date.


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“I was a little bit emotional on the night,” acknowledged the 27-year-old after training on Tuesday, having recovered his customary poise. “It’s been a good year, challenging at times but it’s an honour for me and hopefully what I put out there every weekend has kind of been showing I’m doing alright.

“If you include the World Cup then it was a real high going out there and being named as captain, I was full of confidence, and then it was frustrating personally being injured before half time in two games.

“Then coming back and feeling like I started [the season] well for Edinburgh, but there was a couple of quiet games going into the Six Nations and we all know what happened there, being in and out of the team.

“But I came back to Edinburgh and Sean [Everitt, Edinburgh’s head coach] backed me. He said: ‘Look, I think you’ve been playing well beforehand and playing well now’. I played Zebre in the down week and he backed me and kept his confidence in me and my confidence in myself, and I feel like I’ve been playing pretty well.”

“Rugby is funny,” continued Ritchie. “It’s quite subjective and driven by opinion and narrative around a lot of things. Sometimes the games come to you and sometimes they don’t. It’s funny that when you’re confident it comes to you a bit more and you get yourself in positions and that’s kind of how I’ve felt over the last few weeks.”

Ritchie initially stated that he has not consciously tried to do anything different during this post- Six Nations stretch into the end of the season, but then adjusts that self-analysis.

“I’ve maybe worked a bit harder in games to get myself into positions – I’ve been a little bit more selfish in what I’ve been doing,” he reflected.

“A little different part of my game is in the air, we’ve been kicking a bit more contestable and I feel I’ve been getting myself into the game there.

“And it’s been a reasonable year for getting on the ball. I feel I’ve contributed well to the team.”

 

 

Ultimately, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and while Ritchie does not feel like the trials and tribulations of the last 12 months have fundamentally altered him as a player or a personality, he does understandably take satisfaction from the way he has coped with a level of adversity which had hitherto passed him by.

“From getting into the national team it’s been relatively smooth sailing for me. I feel like I’ve been first choice for most of that time, without trying to sound arrogant. These things come and I feel I’ve proved myself to myself, and it didn’t change who I was if I wasn’t getting selected all the time [in terms of] how I’d be in the environment and what I’m contributing off the field.

“I’m proud of how I’ve handled that. Not letting the frustration get to you is the main thing. It’s natural and important you feel disappointment and a little bit of frustration if you feel you are deserving or missing out on something you want, but it’s how you respond that is important. When you’re in the Six Nations group, when you’re not in the team environment, it’s not about forcing yourself back in.

“If you’re not selected for the game that week, it’s about preparing the team as well as you can and that’s how I looked at it. I’m pretty experienced in terms of international rugby so helping the guys around me who are maybe not as experienced in my position or helping guys like Rory Darge with his leadership are ways I can contribute, so I can try make a difference to the team at the weekend even if I’m not playing.”

“Obviously frustration and disappointment is natural. I’d be worried if I didn’t feel that. But there are other things in my life I can focus on – the bigger picture stuff like family – and I have some really good friends away from rugby that I can talk to about these things.

“All I can do is face it head on – have good conversations with the coaches, things like that – but at no point is it going to benefit me to go in a strop and be really upset about it.

“I understand the way rugby is. It’s super subjective. A coach can make or break your career – if someone doesn’t like you so you don’t get into a team – or you might get injured – these things happen that are often out-with your control. The only thing you can control is how you handle yourself and what you put into it. I’ve always been content with what I’ve done, and that’s all I can base that on.”

 

 

Ritchie’s almost pathological level-headedness can be hard to equate with his combative on-field character – but he rejects the suggestion that rugby is the outlet for hidden pent-up frustration.

“The thing about rugby is when you step in between the lines, you get to be a bit of a different person,” he mused. “You get to be angry and aggressive, but I think that’s more competitive than anything else.

“It’s not like I’m imagining one of the players is Gregor [Townsend] or anything! That’s not how it works.

“In the generation we are in, in the 21st Century, there are not many things where you get to go out and show a bit of aggression and physicality, but rugby is one of those things where you can. It’s part of the game. We don’t need to shy away from that.

“I won’t apologise for being abrasive and a bit aggressive at times on the field. But it’s not because I’m hiding away from anything else.”

Ritchie and Edinburgh can still finish the season on a high, if they get a result away to Benetton on Saturday afternoon which will book their place in the URC play-offs.


URC: Benetton v Edinburgh: capital side suffer another back-three set-back

About David Barnes 3989 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including The Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.

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