Peter Stringer dives to block Andy Goode's kick as Ireland chased the Grand Slam in 2009. Billy Stickland/INPHO

'I'm in control of my own life now': Peter Stringer enjoying his own brand of freedom in retirement

A fitness fanatic, Stringer felt stronger and fitter when he retired at 40 than when he turned professional.

IF THIS OPENING weekend of the Six Nations feels somehow bigger, more hype-fueled, more hotly-anticipated or nervously agitated over, you’d be right.

Ireland-England matches in the tournament have always had a great deal riding on them, even if one side or the other is out of contention for medals before kick-off.

Opening weekends of the Six Nations carry their own brand of suspense. And this year marks the first time since 2000 that the two occasions have been combined.

So there is a chance for the last two winners to deliver an immediate hammer blow to their rivals’ hopes.

19 years in the increasingly punishing sport of rugby is, of course, ample time for numerous careers to come and go, but Peter Stringer came close to spanning that gap in one. 

The Grand Slam-winning scrum-half retired just last summer at the age of 40 after a 20-year run in professional rugby, seven of them after his final bow in green.

“I was sitting on the bench in 2000, didn’t get on. Probably just as well, really, a lot of careers kind of ended that day in Twickenham,” says the scrum-half as he launched the AIB Future Sparks Festival.

Over the course of his 98-Test international career, Stringer was part of a generation who helped to change Ireland’s outlook in  the rivalry with the ‘Old Enemy’. Upset wins and Chariot-derailing ambushes were all well and good, but in Stringer’s time Ireland made themselves equals and showed that wins were repeatable feats. Even as favourites.

Stringer’s first sniff of international rugby came against England in 2000, his last was against the same opponent 11 years later. That game ended with England lifting the title, but Ireland denied them a Grand Slam with a 24-8 win that almost felt routine.

He is ‘at peace’ with his 98 caps now.  But it is still irksome to see such a pivotal figure in Irish rugby end so narrowly shy of a century. Doubly so with the hindsight, eight years on, that Stringer had so much more rugby left in him – almost two full World Cup cycles’ worth.

“I came on for five minutes in that game, missed one tackle, it was my only involvement in the game.

“To finish a game like that, you don’t reflect that as being you’re last game, you don’t even think about that. You think about the moments where you scored tries in Triple Crown games, you scored in different games, you win a Grand Slam, you’re part of a team that probably changed Irish rugby from that 2000 era onwards along with the other guys.

“You look back on those memories and you see what it’s done for Irish rugby and you’re proud of those kind of moments.”

Dan Luger and Peter Stringer Dan Luger on his way to the deck after Stringer's tap tackle in 2001. INPHO INPHO

There is immense pride to be taken too from the manner of his exit from the game. For so many it comes with a sharp, painful thud. Unseen until it’s too late. Stringer’s meticulous attention to the upkeep and maintenance of his body meant he got to choose when the time was right to ride off into the sunset and go back to Cork – albeit with some help from a market where contracts over a year in length are thin on the ground for over 30s.

“If we were year-by-year, young family, moving to England, to France, wherever it might be. It wasn’t the right thing for me.

“It needed to be at the right level, it needed to be with a side that is competitive and winning, wanting to win trophies and playing at the highest level. I didn’t want to be in a league two or three divisions down.

Peter Stringer scores a try Stringer scores in the 2006 Heineken Cup final with Anthony Foley close at hand. Stu Forster Stu Forster

“So to be able to go out at the Premiership, highest level, feeling fitter and stronger than I did going into professional rugby 20 years ago, no injuries, feeling fit and healthy and learning some incredible skills and values in those years…

“It developed my mindset in terms of how I carry my life now: how I eat, how I sleep and how I recover and how I train. Everything I’ve learned through that process has started a new life for me.

“I’m still training, I’m still looking after myself – a lot better than I did when I was playing because I’m in control of it. I’m in control of my own life now and living by my own schedule.

“It’s amazing. To spend time with family, take time out and have that little bit of freedom where you’re not living by someone else’s schedule and to just put it into your own life so you can live the life you want to live.”

When the double Heineken Cup-winner says freedom, it doesn’t mean he has taken a laissez-faire approach to life after rugby. Routine, plans and schedules are still very much the order of the day. It’s just that Stringer is now the author of those frameworks, and leaving behind dressing rooms from Limerick to Bath, Saracens and Worcester hasn’t diminished his appetite for gym work.

Quite the contrary.

“I’m obsessed with it,” says the 41-year-old from a relaxed position in a central Dublin boardroom.

“I can go more because I’m not saving myself for a game at the weekend. I’m up at 6am doing my gym sessions every single day. Now I’m rehearsing with Dancing (With The Stars)  seven or eight hours a day and that’s tiring as well.

“To be able to do it and set my own nutrition is unbelievable. I became very obsessive. It’s not a chore, it comes easily to me, it comes naturally. I know a lot of people struggle doing these things, but for me it’s a passion.”

In time, he aims to turn that passion into a passion project and offer advice, structures and resources to those who share his gym obsession.

When he missed out on inclusion for the 2011 World Cup, he took to the air, earned a pilot’s license and toured the west coast with a bird’s eye view. Now that he has retired from club rugby, his superb vantage point comes purely from his enormous experience. 

“Probably the last seven years of my career, I said to myself and made a promise that I’m going to do everything I possibly can (to play on).

“And whenever the time comes to finish, or if injury finishes me, that I know that I couldn’t have done anymore to prepare, recover and to keep me at the highest level.

“If I didn’t, looking back at it, I would’ve been (thinking): ‘if I had done just a little bit more I could’ve got another couple of years out of it’… the last seven years in terms of injury, I put it down to me being that 24-hour athlete.

“It’s not just you go in at 9am and you’re done by 2pm in the club. It’s how young guys now need to look after themselves. As soon as you finish that session on a Monday, what you do when you go home determines how you will prepare and perform on Tuesday.

“You can’t just be sitting on a couch playing Playstation, like a lot of guys are doing nowadays. Make sure that you’re ready to go and you’re stretched.

Yes, there’s luck involved with injuries, but in terms of strains and niggles: I made sure that I was in the possible shape to take out any of those kind of risks that I could apply myself.

“In knowing that, it certainly helped me in terms of what I ate, how I slept, how I recovered so it’s all a process. So you can prevent injury and have a lengthy career if you apply yourself.

“We’re in a privileged position – not everybody gets to do this and to do it for such a long time.

“You make the most of it when you’re in that position.”

AIB Future Sparks Festival Launch Peter Stringer pictured at the launch of the AIB Future Sparks Festival 2019 in Dublin. Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE / SPORTSFILE

It’s not quite the same, dancing on the television. Yet Stringer has shown himself willing to carry the same attitude into that endeavour. He just hopes his success on the boards doesn’t completely erase memories of why he is such a recognisable figure in Irish sporting life.

This tweet struck a chord with him. There might a few years of adjustment ahead. 

“Donncha (O’Callaghan) says it as well, he goes to the Munster games now and the young kids, they’d never know that he played for Munster – he’s that guy off the kids’ program. He’s that guy off Ireland’s Fittest Family.

“Times do change, but you’d like to think that there’s people out there who remember the big days.”

Days like the crucial try against Biarritz. 

Days like the ones adorned with try-saving ankle taps.

Days like when that beautiful pass teed up a Grand Slam.

Who could forget?


Join us to preview the Six Nations with Simon Zebo, Murray Kinsella and Gavan Casey on Thursday @7pm in Liberty Hall Theatre Dublin.

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