Interview with Dick Manley
I’m sure that most of you know that Dick Manley, the President of Exeter Chiefs Rugby, is an England International who played all his club rugby for Exeter, for over fifteen years. Apart from captaining Exeter and Devon, he also played for the South West Counties and the Barbarians.
He started his rugby during his school days at Hele’s School in Exeter, where he later played for Devon Colts
“I went to a local school, Ladysmith, and I got a scholarship to Hele’s School which was at the end of Queen Street in those days. I went there till I was 16 and then I left to do an apprenticeship as a cabinet maker with a local firm. I joined Exeter Rugby Club as a colt and I played for the colts for a couple of seasons and then I got into the first team when my first game was against Bristol at Bristol. I was playing open-side wing forward - in today’s terms I suppose you’d call it a flanker. I played in all positions in the back row. I played for Exeter for quite a few seasons, fifteen I believe, and I played number 8 for Devon. I did my two years’ National Service in the Army with the Signals at Catterick where I played blindside wing forward. I did get to play overseas in the Hindenberg stadium in Hanover for the final of the Army cup. I played that position for England and the Barbarians. I preferred No 8, you’re your own boss really.”
Did he feel there was one person who he felt had influenced him most during those early years?
“Oh yes absolutely - there were two really. There was the PE master at Hele’s School, a guy called Jack Harrison, who captained Exeter for quite a few years; in fact I linked up with the club because he was captain of Exeter. He had a lot of influence both at Hele’s school and with Exeter Rugby. There was also a fellow called Hank Turner who was a science master at Hele’s; he used to run the rugby club at school when Jack Harrison was coaching there”.
Dick played all his club rugby for Exeter, but what about other teams he played in?
“Well apart from Exeter, which is the only club I’ve played for, I’ve played for Devon, South West Counties, the Barbarians and England, but they weren’t like a club – they were only one-off games really.
We had one game a week and we always had three games over Easter, with perhaps a couple of evening games at the beginning and end of the season. I played all over the South West but in those days Exeter used to do two tours, either Wales or Cornwall. So we played Ebbw Vale, Aberavon, places like that and maybe one or two in London. We didn’t have all these cup games like you do today, the Devon cup was the only cup game we had. Our 2nd team had nearly as many games as the first team and with the Christmas and Easter extra games we had about 40 games a season.
Although I captained Exeter for a couple of seasons during the ‘50s and ‘60s when I was playing my best rugby, I was also away with Devon, the Barbarians and England, so a lot of the time I wasn’t there. The team chose Jack Harrison as captain then, and he was captain for many years; that was a bit of an overlap because many of the players had been in the war. I had sixty four county caps in total. I played for South West Counties against all the touring sides, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa and I played at the County Ground against the All Blacks.”
Dick’s full international honours came relatively late in his career but during his peak years between 1957 and 1963 he played no less than thirteen times for the Barbarians. He was one of the few players that gained recognition with the Barbarians before playing for his country. His England game came in the 1962-1963 season, when he was 30 years old. Earlier, Dick had been asked if he would be available for an England tour of New Zealand and he agreed. However, when it became likely he would be chosen, he withdrew because he felt he could not afford time away from his carpentry business!! How times have changed! He remembers what it was like being an international player then - which was rather different to the modern day international!
“The first time I played for the Barbarians was the year that Devon got to the county final; they obviously saw me playing there so I got chosen. I played for two seasons after that before I played for England.
I played in three England Trials in three different years. They used to spread them about, one in the north, one in the south and usually one in the midlands. I’ll go through the year I played for England when we had two trials to start with. There was one at Torquay and one at Bristol, and then I went up somewhere in the north for the third trial followed by the final trial at Twickenham. That was the set-up. Do you remember that very cold winter in 1962/1963, when everywhere was snowed up? Well, Torquay was the only pitch playable! Normally they would not go further south than Bristol; they would go to Gosforth or Newcastle perhaps. At that time I was the only one at Exeter given a trial although Richard Sharp was there but he was from Penzance. Dick Madge, a scrum-half from Exeter, played for England before the war - I knew of him because he used to come down as a supporter. Some of the England team I knew, because I had played with them in the Army. There was one other who played for Exeter but then went away - it was Peter Winterbottom I believe, who went on to Harlequins and then England.
I was thirty when I played for England for one season in the Five Nations, and also against Canada. The season I played for England we played away to Ireland and Wales! Richard Sharp was the England captain. Mike Davies was another West Country player - he played for Torquay and then there was Bev Dovey, who played for Bristol; most of the others were either from the Midlands or the North. I can’t remember any individual coach but as Richard Sharp was the captain, he did most of the coaching really. We met up the day before an England game, when we trained as a team to get to know each other, but you knew most of them anyway because you had gone to trials with them, you had played with and against them, and then the next day we played the game. We didn’t have a training camp like they do now. We all met at wherever it was and went to the pitch the day before to get acclimatised to the surroundings; all these pitches are different. The pitches in those days were more open than they are today, not as many stands, apart from Twickenham. Bristol was fairly enclosed but a lot of them were just the main stand on one side.”
Rugby has changed enormously over the years, especially with the introduction of professionalism – how did he view these changes?
“Well as a club we used to train regularly twice a week, but for the county games and for England and the Barbarians, you went the day before to get to know each other, but you knew most of them anyway because you had gone to trials with them and you had built up friendships. Nowadays because there are so many players that come from abroad I don’t think it can be the same. When I played for Exeter most of the players came from within 10 miles of Exeter; if one came from Wales he was foreign! Also in those days you had a job so the club was not your source of income. You went out to work every day and played at the weekends, so you didn’t move from club to club as much as they do today.
Before I became self-employed, I worked for Brocks in Exeter; Arthur Brock had played for Devon himself. They were quite good, they always let me go off if there was any rugby. Of course, being self-employed, if I wasn’t working I wasn’t earning! I’ve got nothing against professionalism if anyone wants to take it up as a professional that’s a full time job, they’ve either got to do that or play the amateur game. Being self-employed I don’t know how long I could have got away with it really because I don’t know how much time they spend training now.”
What did he think of the training today? Did he think it had improved from his amateur days?
“I think I would start to get a bit bored with it. Then it was a nice thing to do - play and train - but it was nice to get away from it. They do get a bit bashed around today! It’s changed I think and in some respects it has improved; the players are fitter and more organised shall we say, whereas in the amateur days you may be playing with ½ dozen players you never really trained with that much before, whereas nowadays you train with them every day, so they should know exactly what the other players are capable of. I think in those days it was a more settled team - you didn’t get a lot of chopping and changing. When you had injuries you could take the players from the 2nd team all being well, because we all trained together. In those days we did not have any replacements - if someone came off you played with one man short. I’ve got nothing against a player being injured and somebody else coming on, but I don’t know about coming off when you are not injured. In those days we had one trainer as we say now. There was always a doctor at the game, and depending on your injury, you did get taken to hospital. There was a certain amount of equipment at the club and the trainer, who used to run on the pitch with a sponge, would be down at the club on the Tuesday to give any treatment he was capable of giving, but really he was not a medical man! How many serious injuries did I have, any breaks? None really - I broke a couple of fingers! The only thing I can really remember, and it probably happened in the game against Newport, was a haematoma of the spine. I must have had a knock or a kick; Father noticed it when I got home and called the doctor; but nothing really serious.
When I finished playing I did a bit of coaching. I coached the Colts with Bob Greenham and Bob White who both played for the first team in their time. We ran the Colts for two or three seasons - I enjoyed it, with my track suit on! Now you have individual coaches for each position; then, as a back row forward, although I had played a lot of rugby, I felt I could not tell the wingers what to do!”
Dick must have had many proud moments during his career. What did he feel were his proudest moments in rugby, both internationally and at club level?
“Well at International level it must have been my first game for England against Wales in Wales, at Cardiff Arms Park, an amazing place - there was not a lot in it and we won.
At club level it was a game against Newport when they had not been beaten all season. They were, and still are, a top class Welsh Club, and we beat them on the County Ground, that was quite an achievement.
I was made Club President, four or five years ago, that was an honour. I know I played a lot for them, but to be asked to be President, well, that really was an honour”.