It’s more than just a game for UGRFC’s director of rugby Chris Downes

When 15 university boys are running across the rugby pitch, Chris Downes can come across as a coach you wouldn’t like to be on the wrong side of, but off the field of play the former prop is one of the sincerest people you will ever meet. 

Coaching a group of students to most can seem a stress filled job, but for the recruitment manager, coaching is way of escaping from everyday life and taking a different angle to find the best person for the job.

“It is an escapism for me from work which is quite stressful, I live quite an intense work life.

“Working in recruitment you become very cynical so it doesn’t matter where people come from or where they have been or what journey they have taken to get here, I treat everyone on face value.”

Photo via Dan Hill Photography

Downes or Downsey as he’s known to his players had a playing career dating back to over a decade and is known throughout the local rugby community.

For him to still be involved with the sport after such a long stretch of time makes it clear that the love that he has for rugby goes far beyond the try line.

“I love it when we play well, I love it when I see real progression from the second and the thirds guys or people who join us as a fresher with no real rugby intelligence and they leave at a standard where they could go and play club rugby.

“I love the friendships I have made over the years; it is very different (with a university club) there is a lot of politics within club rugby and there is none here it is a real genuine love for the sport and a genuine love for each other… and I like winning varsity.” 

Having had links with the university for many seasons before he took over the role as Director of Rugby ahead of the 2017/18 season, Downsey is very much part of the furniture at UGRFC and holds the respect of everyone at the club, but for him there is just as much importance off the field than there is on it. 

“One of the reasons I do the job is so that you can see the visible impact on their lives and it’s not just about rugby.

“It is just simple things like handshakes when you say hello and it sounds daft but we are trying to develop really good humans that are going to go out into the wider world when they graduate with good manners and good standards of behaviour.

“Words are empty, if people want to do something badly enough then they will make changes and sacrifices if they don’t it doesn’t matter what walk of life we are in whether it be recruitment or rugby or relationships or whatever its actions and behaviour more than words.”

Photo via Dan Hill Photography

Once you get past the hard exterior of the former Old Patesians player you start to see the side that maybe the players don’t, the side where a loving smirk warms across his face as he reminisces over the memories he has had.

“Everyday gives me good memories working with these guys it’s a bit cheesy but it gives me a safe haven from work (chuckles) to come and work with these guys and I would be happy to represent them anywhere and anyhow. 

“I have got lots of favourite memories here, I got fairly emotional the first year we won the varsity at Coventry, just because that year had been quite hard for the group with personal issues people had that I was quite close to and to celebrate with their family and friends when we were underdogs that was a really good memory.”

Being involved with a university sports club as a student gives you a limited amount of time to build a high-level standard of rugby and when you’re just getting into your stride your degree comes to an end, but as Downsey reiterated throughout, it is those memories that the players will make are the memories he wants to last a life-time. 

“I want them to look back with fondness, it’s cliché but they have made memories and friendships that are never going to be broken.

“I’ve known guys to be best men at weddings, godparents to children and all that sort of stuff, we want to leave a legacy where people can look back and think I loved it. “

It’s clear to see that Chris Downes has UGRFC’s best interests at heart and everything he does for the club is completely selfless, however, when asked the infamous question ‘would you rather be a cheese or a sauce’ a reply without a second thought… 

“Cheese, everyday.”

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