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Gloucester’s Jamal Ford-Robinson calm as Sharks circle in Tottenham
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Gloucester’s Jamal Ford-Robinson calm as Sharks circle in Tottenham

Jamal Ford-Robinson is detailing precisely what the award he won at Gloucester’s end of season bash was for when eventually he explains that “essentially it’s about being a good club man”. Given his standing among his peers, you would be hard pressed to find anyone who he has shared a dressing room with to argue.

The award was a welcome end to a hectic season for Ford-Robinson that began in mid-October when, after he was summoned into the squad at the 11th hour and scored the winning try against Harlequins. It could yet end with a second winners’ medal of the campaign with Gloucester facing South African side the Sharks in Friday night’s Challenge Cup final while along the way he has hit a century of Premiership appearances as well as 100 matches for Gloucester – celebrating each landmark in the self-deprecating style that makes him such a popular figure.

So how will he spend his summer reflecting on it all? “Weekend getaways in the caravan,” he says. “I’m all about the caravan life at the moment. I went down to Brean [in Somerset] and got some serious caravan envy because we definitely had the smallest one. But I only paid £3,500 for our one and I’m very happy with it. It’s big enough for me, the missus and the dogs.”

Add caravanning to the already burgeoning list of interests that Ford-Robinson enjoys. And in his case, enjoyment is the operative word. He has dabbled in wrestling – “I’m undisputed, undefeated, still 1-0!” – as well as esports coaching and he is soon to be reunited with his American muscle car. He’s a keen photographer and has recently started vlogging, while it was during lockdown that his TikTok videos – which started out as a way to “keep me sane” – went viral. To the extent that he was given a community award by Premiership rugby and heralded as a “one-man lifter of spirits”.

The TikTok videos may have dried up of late – though one of Ford-Robinson having his broken nose mended has received a million views – but he is prominent on social media, entertaining and engaging in equal measure. He has a big personality and does not mind sharing it. “I was in Leicester’s academy from 16 until 18/19 and one of the issues I had was that I just didn’t have anything going on outside of rugby,” says Ford-Robinson. “It wasn’t looking very good for me in terms of moving on to a senior contract. That was pretty tough, it was a dark period in my life and that’s what has led me to being the person that I am now. It’s about not taking yourself too seriously, not taking life too seriously, finding things outside of rugby that you can get some enjoyment out of.

Ox Nche, South Africa’s World Cup winning prop, will be part of the Sharks’ fearsome pack in Friday night’s final.View image in fullscreen

“It’s not that losing on the field doesn’t hurt, you never want to walk off the field feeling like you’ve not done enough, but at the end of the day it’s such a small part of what your life can be and if you let that become all consuming I just don’t think it’s a very positive thing.”

As healthy a view as Ford-Robinson evidently has, you sense a hint of wariness to avoid coming across as someone who is not invested enough in Gloucester’s fortunes. For all that his off-field interests can garner attention, equally, he is pleased his performances on the pitch have been recognised this season.

“I don’t take myself too seriously, I’ve very much willing to be open and have a joke but it’s also nice to receive an award like that, especially from Skivs [George Skivington, Gloucester’s head coach], because he does not give a flying monkeys about social media,” says Ford-Robinson. “I’m not sure he’s heard of it. So to have that recognition for what I’m doing on the field as well is massive.

“One of the things that was referenced by Skivs when he announced me as the winner of the award was some movement in the Prem Cup final. I was due to start the game at loosehead but we had a few things happen during the week and I ended up being on the bench at tighthead. I was moved around to facilitate the bigger picture.”

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A victim of his versatility perhaps – Ford-Robinson is a rare breed in that he is equally happy on either side of the scrum – but clearly someone valued by Gloucester. When reaching his 100th game the former chief executive Lance Bradley explained how Ford-Robinson “is one of the best people I’ve ever worked with, including in my pre-sport days. Whatever trench you were in, you’d want him with you.”

He will be needed in the trench with the Sharks packing a host of Springbok power in their forward pack including the prop Ox Nché and the second row Eben Etzebeth. Ford-Robinson is aware of their talents but does not strike you as someone who will be overawed by the occasion, nor succumb to paralysis by analysis.

“You saw what [Nché] did during the World Cup. When I’ve seen him play I’ve been very impressed. Not that I’ve got an all-seeing eye for it. But you want to play against the big players and see how you fare. If I watch rugby on the rare occasion it’s more to just watch it as a game of rugby. At the end of the day he’s just another human being.”

Gloucester head into the match on the back of a welcome win over Newcastle to round off their Premiership season and flush the 90-0 drubbing by Northampton out of their system. “Our Premiership performances aren’t where they should be but I call it back to the Prem Cup final, winning that at home, you don’t get that opportunity very often and being in a European final and hopefully walking away with that one. When you look back at your career, you’re not necessarily going to remember league positions, it’s more, ‘do you remember that final down in Tottenham? Do you remember that final that we had at home.’ It’s those big occasions when you have trophies on the line that will rest in your memory.”

Source: theguardian.com