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INPHO Maggs' direct running style made him very tough to get to ground.
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'I wanted to go out there and smash people' - The things you learn from a chat with Kevin Maggs
The former Ireland centre talked to The42 about crash balls, Warren Gatland and Mathieu Bastareaud.

HE ENDED UP winning 70 caps for Ireland so you would have thought that Kevin Maggs was a schools rugby sensation in Bristol, barrelling over smaller, weaker centres with his low, powerful running style.

Turns out that Ireland’s archetypal inside centre only came to rugby seriously at age 17. Before that he was – in a perfect fit – a teak-tough defender on the football pitch who by his own admission, ‘just hacked down people at the back’.

Maggs’ love affair with rugby started after he went to university, played a few games and then got involved with the Bristol Colts – which was the equivalent of the Bristol academy back then.

Maggs, who is now the Director of Rugby for Moseley in the English Championship, remembers that he loved the physicality of the sport… but admits that as a young player he was just as draw in by the pre and post-match refreshments.

“I went to a Bristol Colts trial and did well and there was just a great social scene back then,” Maggs told The42.

“It was proper amateur stuff, like pints before games – it was crazy. Afterwards there would be yards of ale. It was a great time and I loved playing there.”

For someone who only took up the game in his final year of school, Maggs’ rise was fairly steep. By 1997 he was in the Bristol first team, although he still wasn’t on the radar of Ireland coach Brian Ashton.

Maggs remembers splicing together a tape of his best footage – although he laughs when asked if it was just an hour of him boshing hapless opponents – and sending it off to the IRFU.

Conor Ryan / YouTube

He heard nothing back but one day when Ashton took a trip to Bristol to scout David Corkery and Paul Burke, the team manager took the Ireland boss to one side and mentioned that their centre also had Irish roots.

“I sent videos to the IRFU of me playing with a letter saying how much I wanted to play for Ireland but they never got back to me,” Maggs said.

“Then one day Brian Ashton tells me that I’m on standby for the development tour to New Zealand in ’97. I was on standby on the Tuesday, called into the squad on a Thursday and by the weekend I was with the team in New Zealand. It all happened in the space of a few days.”

Maggs quickly became a fan-favourite and could always be counted on to eke out a few yards against even the stingiest defences. If you were a rugby commentator who didn’t have the stock phrase ‘….and a crash ball to Kevin Maggs’ in your back pocket then you likely weren’t going to be employed by any major station.

MottiRugby / YouTube

Listening to Maggs talk about his time in the green jersey is to hear a man reminisce about one of his favourite memories.

“Playing for Ireland was the best time in my life,” he says.

“Even now I wonder what the lads are talking about in camp or what the craic is like. You always miss it and I don’t think you ever get over it.”

One of the biggest wins of Maggs’ Ireland career was in 2001, when Keith Wood rumbled over the line from the back of a 5m lineout to upset England at Lansdowne Road.

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Conor Ryan / YouTube

Clive Woodward’s side had won their first four games of that Six Nations by 29, 57, 40 and 29 points but Ireland somehow came out on top despite getting beaten by 22 points at Murrayfield a month earlier.

Maggs was at Bath at the time and immensely enjoyed spoiling England’s Grand Slam coronation.

“A lot of my Bath team-mates were in the side and they had been talking about the win bonus they would get if they won the Grand Slam so that was great motivation beforehand and I told all the lads about it,” Maggs said.

“It was a fantastic feeling to stop them from doing the Grand Slam.”

Shane Horgan INPHO Maggs celebrates after beating England in 2001. INPHO

Of course, the national team were coached at that time by the man looking to ruin Ireland’s Grand Slam party this year.

Warren Gatland has become a great sporting villain for Irish rugby fans and while they would probably love Maggs to tell tales that paint him as a heartless tyrant, the former centre remembers him as a good man-manager who meshed well with his eventual successor.

“We had a good spell under Warren and he did a great job of empowering the players,” Maggs said.

“It was a very player driven team. And he brought the wives in and created a great family atmosphere. I was very surprised when they didn’t renew his contract because he worked very well with Eddie. They did different things but they did them well.”

Warren Gatland INPHO Warren Gatland coached Ireland between 1998-2001. INPHO

A conversation with Kevin Maggs wouldn’t be worth doing without getting him to give a Simon Cowell-eqsue critique of the wrecking balls playing at centre today.

Nobody embodies the shift to a power game more than Mathieu Bastareaud but Maggs thinks the Toulon Tank could do with maybe slimming down the size of a mere Jeep.

“I wish I was that size because I’d make a lot more use of it,” Maggs said.

“He’s more suited to tighthead prop than centre and I think if he lost more weight he would be better.”

But Maggs isn’t against direct running by any means, and he succinctly summed up the impact he had from the 12 channel when asked about his playing style.

“At the end of the day I want to be remembered as someone who put their body on the line,” Maggs said.

“I wanted to go out there and smash people and I wanted to run over people.”

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