JIM HAMILTON has given a jaw dropping insight into what exactly went on at Scotland’s 2015 Rugby World Cup training camp at Font Romeu in France.
Speaking on episode one of The Rugby Pod podcast [www.therugbypod.com], Hamilton revealed that head coach Vern Cotter led the squad on an expedition into the French Pyrenees which gives the infamous Camp Steel Wire endured by the Springboks ahead of the 2003 World Cup (featuring players stripped naked and pumping up balls in a freezing lake with gun toting security guards ordering any reluctant skinny dippers back into the icy water) a run for its money in terms of stark brutality.
The story was told as part of a segment about rugby’s most extreme pre-season training camps, and with Hamilton being egged on by his fellow presenters (including former England fly-half Andy Goode), so there may be a touch of hyperbole involved.
Basically we had a toughen-up, old-school camp. We were told to turn up at a five star hotel in Edinburgh and I was thinking: “Well, this aint toughening-up!” We then got on a mini-bus, got to Edinburgh airport and boarded a Ryan Air flight to Barcelona – no leg room, no nothing. Stag doo! Here we go! Vern, you are a legend!
However, proceedings were about to take a rather sinister turn.
We get off the plane in Barcelona and yellow school buses pick us up, and they take us for hours upon end across the border into France. We get dropped off after four or five hours and all we can see loads of mountains, there’s no water.
We’re like: “Where’s our water?”
“You should have brought your own – we’re trying to toughen up!”
So, whatever we were wearing we were told we had to walk in for six or seven hours, up to a check point in the mountain.
Vern says: “Lads, before you go, this is about toughening bloody up – let’s see who wants it?”
I’m with Dr James Robson, the Lions legend, and Stuart Hogg, who thinks he’s a Lions legend. We’re literally wearing the stuff we woke up and put on in the morning, so I’ve got flip-flops, a pair of shorts and a Scotland top; Stuart Hogg’s wearing flip-flops, shorts and he’s carrying Louis Vuitton bag.
So we’re walking six hours up into this mountain and as you get to four or five hours your feet are getting sore [from] walking over rocky terrain. We get to the checkpoint and what we find is that we actually have another four hours to go. So we keep walking for four hours and by this time I’m having to carry all Stuart Hogg’s gear and Dr James Robson’s – who is borderline 60 years old now. I’ve got the defibrillator, I’ve got my bag, I’ve got the Louis Vuitton bag, and it’s probably about nine o’clock by now, so it’s getting pretty cold.
Fortunately the squad have been supplied with water by this point.
We get to where we are staying and there’s a campfire but also cages with rabbits in. These army guys come out and by the time everyone has got to the camp, Vern is sat there in full outdoor hunter gear – big jumper, walking boots and he’s got a knife.
He says: “Right lads, we’ve got four hours, we’re cooking this for dinner, who doesn’t want to kill the rabbits?”
So, Richie Gray puts his hand up, obviously – you pussy Richie! Ross Ford, Stuart Hogg and someone else [also] put their hands up.
“Right, you four are killing the rabbits!”
So, the army guy pulls out this bunny rabbit – it’s not even a wild rabbit – and says: “This is how you need to kill it.”
He’s swinging this rabbit round with one hand, then next thing he slams it on the floor, I’m not joking, the thing’s eyes popped out of its head, then he cuts his throat, and he’s like: “Right, that’s how you kill it!”
So the boys had to go and kill the other three. Richie Gray is spinning this thing round and he’s saying that he can’t slam it, and Vern shouts: “F**kin’ kill it!”
Richie does it, but it’s not dead, it’s shaking like mad and there’s blood everywhere, and he’s slamming it over the head with a stick.
Needless to say, the rabbits didn’t taste that succulent – they were a bit tough. But that’s all we had for food … with 35 baguettes.
So, we were sat round the campfire, and we were like: “Ok, where are we sleeping?”
Vern says: “We’re sleeping here.”
“Ok, sleeping bags?”
No sleeping bags, no tents, no kit – there are 40 big rugby players sat around the campfire, and literally we are freezing all night long. Some of the boys are really struggling with it. Then at four in the morning, this horn goes, and you’re like: “Nobody is asleep anyway, so we don’t need that!”
We’re going down the hill and Stuart Hogg is struggling like mad, so I’m having to carry him, and Vern’s like: “I’m only going to pick guys who want it and show me how tough they are!”
I’m thinking: “I’ll show him how tough I am”. I’ve got Stuart Hogg on my back, I’ve got the defibrillator, I‘ve got the Louis Vuitton bag, I’ve got my flip-flops on and I’m walking down the hill, thinking: “I’m going. I’m bloody going to the World Cup.”
Anyway, it turns out they pick Stuart Hogg … and I don’t get picked and go home!
Image: Craig Watson Pix