He’s the latest London Irish centurion, as popular with fans and teammates off the pitch as he is frustrating to the opposition on it (and who would want their scrum halves to act any differently?). Matt Merritt catches up with Scott Steele to find out how it feels to hit 100 games, what the club are doing to adjust to the tackle law trial in the cup and more…
Let’s start with the weekend just gone and your 100th appearance for London Irish. How did it feel running out?
It was a great day! A great milestone to reach for Irish. I was just thinking, when I moved here from Leicester I never imagined I’d play as many games as I have over the last 4 and a bit seasons. I’ll never forget that but it’s even better that the boys all turned up for a really good performance against Pirates.
The team faced Pirates in the previous home match but this time it was a much more comfortable score line. It must feel good to have found another level.
Definitely. We knew it was going to be tough and they didn’t disappoint. It was a tough game and they came back into it just before halftime when we got the yellow, but the boys dug in deep and persevered. The bench came on and they made a big impact too.
It was good to back up the performance from Hartpury the week before. That was under tougher conditions but the same story… the boys worked hard and got the 5 points.
How are you finding the tackle rules they are trialling in the cup?
The first week in training we had to start repping it and making sure we were getting into the right positions so we didn’t slip into the usual habits of playing in the league. In the first game they were hot on it. In the first 20 minutes against Hartpury there must have been 10 penalties given away for the tackle area (Editors Note: there was only a single penalty for a high-tackle all game) but the boys adapted and the Pirates had obviously had a week doing it the week before, so it wasn’t that much of an issue.
It’s difficult in certain scenarios though where you don’t have time to think about “oh yeah, the rules changed last week” so those are the times now where penalties are being given away, rather than boys intentionally aiming for a higher tackle.
I guess you can’t change a lifetime of training in a couple of weeks.
Exactly. It’s tough, especially for the bigger lads, they have to change the whole approach of how they make a tackle, so the coaches are constantly reminding us in the week and hopefully by the time the game comes around we’ve done it so much it doesn’t affect us.
I certainly wouldn’t want to be a lock in that situation!
Yeah, if you’ve got a scrum half sniping around the base and you’re up against someone who is 6 foot 6 it’s a bit difficult to drop your body height in a second to make the hit.
It’ll be interesting to see what findings come out of this trial period and whether it goes any further.
You mentioned scrum halves there. We’re lucky to have four strong options for the 9 shirt at the club and that’s meant you’ve had a bit of a wait to make that hundredth appearance. How do you deal with the weeks you’re not picked?
The scrum halves we’ve got all offer different things and are all very good players. It’s just about helping the boys get prepared as best they can for the week ahead. If I’m starting a game and another boy has missed out they won’t be sulking because everyone goes through it. Everyone wants to play but ultimately you can only put 2 scrum halves in the squad.
You’ve got to remember when you are playing what the boys have done for you so when it comes to the other way around. It is frustrating when you’re not playing but a negative attitude isn’t going to help you get back in the team. So, helping the boys as well as you can and training hard so you’re not wasting weeks and then when you do get your chance you can keep on top of things!
There’s one less spot on the bench this season which must impact the coach’s choices too. We saw you pop up on the wing in pre-season, is that something you’ve been working on?
Yeah, it’s been a bit of a focus. In terms of personnel, who you pick and who you start… In our back line there’s a few guys who can cover multiple positions. Luke McLean for example can play 15, wing, centre or 10 and Greig Tonks is similar in that respect.
Depending on who starts that affects the bench. In pre-season we did have a focus of our 9s looking to be an option to cover wing which I quite enjoyed actually! It’s one of those situations where if it goes well everyone compliments you because you’re playing out of position and if it doesn’t go so well you’re not playing your normal role so it’s not your bread and butter.
I liked playing out wide. It’s good to see the game from a different point of view and there’s a little less pressure than being in my normal position.
Before we move away from scrum half talk I have to ask, as a Scots man who wears 9 on his back… how much stick do you give Rory Brand for being an England u20s player?
Quite a lot! Me and Gordie Reid remind him now and again, especially when he was going away to camp last year.
He’s done pretty well for the under 20s which makes it even worse, but the last time they played Scotland I think they ended up getting beat so we definitely wound him up about that… he chose the wrong side!
I think overall it’s a decision he probably made for his development and it will obviously hold him in good stead going forward.
We’re smack in the middle of Movember at the moment and we’re seeing some of the lads sharing their efforts on social media. Who do you think has the best in the squad (and the worst)?
There’s a few boys this year that haven’t done it the past couple of years so I’m not sure if it’s just because we’re not used to seeing them with moustaches but Josh McNally’s isn’t ideal. I think he was very close to quitting after a week! His isn’t great, Theo Brophy Clews too, he’s struggling a bit.
The best one up there is probably Seb de Chaves. He prides himself on his beard and moustache game so his is up there.
I’ve not been involved, when it comes around every year I just know that it’s not an option for me so I just donate and stay clear from attempting it myself!
Looking forward to the game at the weekend, Bedford are always tough opposition so what are you expecting from them?
They’re a tough team to play against with a lot of good players. The forward pack are big and very efficient at set piece but on the flip side their backs are electric and will have a crack from anywhere so we’ll have to be switched on no matter where they are on the pitch because they’ll make runs from deep.
They gave us a tough game when we played them in the league, they came back into the game and we had two guys get yellow cards so we’re prepared for anything but we’re focusing on us and making sure we gets the bits right from last week that didn’t go well and building on the pieces that did.
Thanks for your time Scott! We’re doing these interviews to celebrate 20 years of LISC so before we go did you have any messages you’d like to share with the fans?
Just on the back of last weekend I was really taken aback by the reaction of the fans, both during the game and people going out of their way to congratulate me afterwards in the club room. It made it a really special occasion for me!
The way they’ve stuck by the club, we’ve had a bit of a rollercoaster with relegation, going back up and then relegation again so to see the fans there every week cheering us on and going to the away games especially… the boys really appreciate it!
Many thanks to Scott for his time and to the club for their ongoing help and support.
You can donate to the team’s Movember fundraising here: https://uk.movember.com/team/2285265