By: Karen Gasbarino-Knutt
James Pritchard is one of those rare players. At 39, not only is he still playing, but he hopes to carry on as long as he can. And if he can’t play, he’ll continue to coach. And train, himself and others.
Pritch has no plans to leave the game that by his own admission has been so good to him for so long.
Pritch, as he’s known as by friends and teammates, joked recently on social media that the reason he’s been able to play so long is that he avoids being tackled and supports in the back. The evidence was in the video he provided of him scoring three tries, and all by staying on the outside and avoiding tackles. And by being fast and agile. Can’t forget that. It’s not just by sheer luck that Pritch avoids the tackles. There is some modicum of skill there as well.
James Pritchard boasts impressive stats.
Not just for Canada, but in his professional career as well. Approximately 350 professional games have been played over a 16 year career from 2001 to 2018. He’d also made an additional 50 appearances for Canada in an 11 year span from 2003 to 2016, with four world cup tours included in the mix, when he finally called time on his International career.
I spoke to James Pritchard when he first retired from international duty in 2015, just ahead of World Cup in England. In essence, he retired twice; when he was first left off the 2015 World Cup squad he thought it timely to end his Canada career, but upon the injury of Liam Underwood was called upon to finish out Canada’s World Cup campaign in England. Which he did.
Then he retired again. This time for good.
Pritch will always be a fan favourite in Canada. Not only does he boast an impressive boot, but he’s got one of those approachable personas, and he’s active within the rugby community, both online and in life. He takes the time for people because he truly loves the game. And he feels a responsibility as an ambassador of the game to pass the torch.
The stats alone made for some great entertainment as Pritch approached – and then exceeded – the most points scored for Canada (by former captain Gareth Rees), with 607. It came as a shock that he was calling it a day on his career when he first retired. Supporters were glad to see him return to World Cup play in England. To have a proper “goodbye”.
Pritchard resides in Bedford UK, where he spent the bulk of his professional career. There, he is also running his own personal training business. On top of that Pritch has made the natural transition to coaching. He has no plans to leave the game.
Pritchard took time out of his considerably packed schedule to talk to me about his playing days, his next steps, and advice for the next generation. Fabulous, frank responses to my questions. Ladies and Gentlemen, a Q and A with James Pritchard:
Have you actually called time on your career?
Although I’m still lacing up the boots and running out with Ampthill in the RFU National One, I’m slowly starting to move away from the playing side of things – which I must say is more difficult than I thought – to the coaching side of things. As much as the body keeps telling me to give it up, the mind just won’t take the hint; Hence, I’m now 39 and still running around with boys half my age.
It looks like you’re set up for a full-time rugby life with your training and coaching as well. Any plans to ever step back from the game?
If I get my way, then NO.
I’ve been fortunate enough – and have been one of the lucky ones – to have been able to make a career out of doing something that I love and enjoy. The game of rugby has been a major part of my life for over 20 years now, and it has given me countless opportunities (and some amazing memories) and for that reason I want to be able to continue on in the game, and give back whatever I can to the next generation of players coming through.
How have you prepared for your playing days to be done?
For me personally, I’ve had something in place ever since I started playing professional Rugby League when I left high school.
I was always told that ‘very few people make it in the professional game, so you better be prepared for when that phone call comes and your services are no longer needed’. I’ve been a qualified Personal Trainer since I was 18, and there have been very few times that I haven’t worked, even when I was playing professionally.
As well as trying to keep people fit, I’ve also been coaching for over 10 years now, as I saw this as a way of being able to stay in the game once I finished playing, as well as being able to give something back after it had given me so much.
I’ve also been given the opportunity to do a bit of commentary work as well, which is something that I really enjoy. I’m hoping that will continue as well.
On top of all of this, I’ve recently started training as a Cyber Security Analyst, just so I can keep my options open at the end of the day if this ‘rugby thing’ doesn’t pan out.
Any plans to coach at an even higher level? You’re engaging as a pundit. Can you elaborate on the commentary angle?
Look, like any competitive sportsman I want to be the best I can be. And that doesn’t stop when you finish playing. Like I mentioned, I’ve been coaching now for over 10 years in both full time and consultant roles while playing, and now that my playing career is coming to an end I’m starting to push forward with the coaching.
I was recently accepted into the RFU Level 4 Performance Coaching course, which to my understanding only around 120 coaches within the UK have completed, so this is something I have been working hard toward to further my coaching knowledge and experience. S
So… to coach at an international level is definitely a goal that I’m working hard towards.
On the commentary side of things, I loved that and its definitely something I would like to try and keep doing given the chance. With the 2019 World Cup fast approaching, I’m hoping there will be few more opportunities for me to get behind that microphone.
Do your kids have any involvement in rugby? Thoughts on kids and sport? Do we over-schedule them?
My son plays for the Junior Blues U9’s here in Bedford, which I also coach. He’s done the whole tag thing, and this season will be his first with contact – so it’s going to interesting to see how he gets on with that.
My daughter used to play as well, but she lost interest when I had to move up in the age groups with my son. It was one of the hardest things I heard when she told me she didn’t want to play because I wasn’t her coach anymore. She now does MMA.
When it comes to kids and sport, I believe the more sports they can be a part of, the better. My wife and I are constantly taking them from one sport to another, and I think that’s vital when they are growing up.
Let them be kids and try a whole array of sports, and when they are ready, they will let you know and choose one they want to focus on.
What do you recommend to players regarding post-career preparedness?
Simple. Be prepared.
You need to have a backup plan for when you eventually retire, or worse, you’re forced to through injury.
Rugby as a profession is a very short career choice… and let’s be honest, the chances of you being able to set yourself up for life from a few years of playing are pretty slim.
My advice would be to keep yourself busy.
Players have plenty of downtime when playing professionally so there’s always time to study – or even to work part time. There are even companies nowadays that are dedicated to working with ex-athletes to help them find a career path and place them in a work environment.
What do you think about Rugby Canada’s current struggles?
Disappointing to say the least.
As a former player, it’s hard to watch the boys struggling like they have been doing.
But to be honest, it’s no surprise. Toward the end of my career, you could see the wheels in motion and concerns just seemed to fall on deaf ears.
When rugby 7’s were announced as an Olympic sport, so much emphasis was put on winning a medal that everything took a back seat and we are now paying the price.
Concerns were raised – by a lot of players – but no one wanted to know ,and today we find ourselves in this predicament.
Personally, I’ve tried to stay involved as best I can, which is tough living on the other side of the pond. I got so much out of my time in the Canadian jersey that I feel that I have a responsibility to give something back, and help out whenever possible.
Regardless of which side of the pond Pritch is on, he will always be one of Canada’s treasured and popular players. I definitely hope we have not seen the last of him.