THE WASPS that Nic Groom will face on Saturday won’t worry him much. He’s used to avoiding sharks in his other great sporting passion of outdoor swimming [also known as wild swimming].
The 29-year-old South African scrum-half, who was made vice-captain at Edinburgh soon after his arrival at the club this summer, believes that submerging himself in icy cold water has a soothing effect on his body and soul – and he is now encouraging his team-mates to give it a shot.
“I was a swimmer more than a rugby player when I was growing up and being in the water … everything quietens down … the cold and other elements are there,” he explains. “There’s a lot of noise out there competing for our attention and I find the act of driving there, sitting for a while and getting in is very therapeutic. It doesn’t have to be long – I can assure you that it’s not long – but just getting in is good for the body.
“The salt … it is magical,” he adds. “They walk wild horses in the salt water so that they can race the next day, so there must be something in it.”
Pressed on whether it is dangerous to go flapping around in the shark-infested water off the coast of his native South Africa, Groom flashes a knowing smile. “There’s sharks everywhere, and I have been in when the sirens have gone off but luckily no one has been hurt,” he replies.
While the threat of sharks is not so much of a concern in Scotland, the climate means that jumping into wild water requires a different kind of gung-ho bravery – but that hasn’t put Groom off.
“I’m just someone who likes the ocean,” he says. “Having lived in Northampton and Johannesburg for a couple of years, it’s something I really missed, so I try to always do it when I’m near the coast. I’ve been for a few swims out at Portobello and Cramond since coming to Edinburgh, and up to Loch Lomond. It’s just something I enjoy doing.
“I’ve not been out over the winter yet but I’m dying to go. We have some time off in a couple of months and I haven’t been any further up than the Trossachs, so that’s something I’m really looking forward to doing.
While none of his team-mates have yet felt tempted to join him for a dip in the sea, they are not completely opposed to the general concept.
“There are a few boys I’ve talked into doing hydrotherapy where we go between hot and cold baths,” he says. “There is a good crew now doing it. Damien Hoyland is a fan of the cold. Jamie Farndale and Matt Scott like the hot and cold. We try and channel our inner Wim Hof, who is a cold therapy guru. He hosts these ice-bath parties. The theory is the real cold is supposed to clear your mind of everything and that survival instinct will kick in.”
That experience of exposing himself to the extreme cold must have come in handy last Friday night when Edinburgh battled out a Challenge Cup Pool Stage Round Three victory over Wasps at Murrayfield in a near arctic setting.
The return match at the Ricoh Arena in Coventry on Saturday is expected to be played in slightly more hospitable conditions and Groom says the team will travel south in a confident frame of mind.
“Maybe we saw glimpses of what we can do last week which was really encouraging, the great thing for us is that we played well and beat a top side,” he says.
“We are playing against a world class set of players who on their day can be really special. There is not much you can change in a couple of days. We need to rally together and keep an eye on their superstars and grind it out.
“We are playing away which is a challenge, but we will take a lot of confidence from last week. We have two good training days and we’ll look at areas we want to improve on. How do we improve with the ball? How can we be more effective? If we have that frame of mind regardless who we are playing against we will be in a good position.”