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My first boss: Ugo Monye, former England rugby star

·6-min read
Ugo Monye has carved a successful career offf the pitch after retiring in 2015. Photo: Nick Andrews
Ugo Monye has carved a successful career offf the pitch after retiring in 2015. Photo: Nick Andrews

Ugo Monye made his England debut at Twickenham in 2008 and played 14 times for his country.

A British & Irish Lions and England Sevens player, Monye was also a one-club man after playing nearly 240 times for Harlequins, with 87 tries, before retiring in 2015. He is now a successful TV and radio broadcaster, with BT Sport and co-hosts the BBC's Rugby Union Weekly podcast.

Collin Osborne was my coach, mentor, boss, confidante, friend and critic. At the epicentre, there was this selfless desire to get the most out of everyone he worked with.

Collin is a former teacher and was the academy coach at Harlequins RFC. I’ve worked with world-class coaches such as Stuart Lancaster, Sir Ian McGeechan and Warren Gatland, but Collin was my most important.

I had just finished my A-Levels and was playing at the Middlesex Sevens at Twickenham. I found it intimidating as much as it was invigorating, having kids stand on the side of the pitch with dustbins as drums. Everyone needs someone to have belief within them and Collin soon gave me my first opportunity in 2001.

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He identified incredible talent throughout Quins and his ability to spot it became the backbone of the success when we played, with the likes of Mike Brown, Danny Care and Joe Marler — all young English talent who played with distinction for club and country.

At the time I thought he was tough and hard, but it was just a gear change from school rugby and the feedback was more robust. I look back now and he was the perfect mentor for someone like me. He saw natural, raw ability and athletic background and it was how he was going to turn me into a half-decent player.

Harlequins director of rugby Conor O'Shea (left) with Assistant First Team Coach Collin Osborne   (Photo by Andrew Matthews/PA Images via Getty Images)
The revered Collin Osborne, right, held a number of roles at Harlequins. Photo: Andrew Matthews/PA Images

You never saw him in a suit. Everyone I had met with authority was ‘sir’. He was known as Collin, which also blew my mind. And then there were the swear words; it illustrated how fresh I was. With a sharp tongue, he was a diminutive but fiery and mighty figure but he would do anything for his boys. He was a father figure to many, I reckon.

You have your own self belief but when it’s matched by the same belief and then amplified, a different coach may have liked or disliked me with sport being a subjective world. Collin saw it differently and he fiercely backed me.

I’d like to think he found someone passionate and driven. In my first year, I broke my toe two months into my first season. But most setbacks in my career have propelled me for greater success. Not being able to train and play in isolation was heartbreaking but I was then partnered with Keith Wood, who had just been named world player of the year, for the next three months. Forwards and backs don’t normally mix but he took me under his wing. That period prepared me for professional rugby.

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My first contract was £8,000 and I went to see Mark Evans, who was then CEO, in my first experience at negotiating. I had come off the bench against London Irish, scored a try from 80 metres out to win the game and the next day I walked into the office, sat down, rubbed my chin and said make it ‘eight and a half’. They nodded and I thought ‘Well, I’ve done a job on them, haven’t I!’ In reality, I had probably negotiated an extra £35 per month.

But they saw potential and it was hard to get a contract back then. I had a sense of kudos and pride and I would have done it for free, which I was until that point. The contract just about covered the travel getting to training.

I signed my last contract, a three-year-deal, aged 29. I went out there to enjoy it but I also realised I needed to prepare for what happens next if I didn’t. The stark reality is that 20% of players in the Premiership next season won’t have a contract and will be forced to move or retire. The question is whether one in five players are prepared to retire? Absolutely not.

I spent three years figuring out what I wanted to do next and went out to enjoy it. I then flipped it and worked out what I didn’t want to do.

Harlequins' Ugo Monye celebrates at the final whistle
Harlequins' Ugo Monye won over 150 times for the only club he played for in a fine career. Photo: Getty Images

As a senior player the best position to find yourself in is to selflessly make yourself redundant. You want to help with the young wingers coming through to be able to be good enough so that you leave a legacy and pathway at the club. I felt like I had done my job and I fell into the media when commentator Nick Mullins asked me about punditry.

In my last year I had a groin reconstruction and as much as I was enjoying rugby, I wanted to have balance and challenge myself off the pitch. I did about 25 games for BT Sport that season and loved it, signed a contract and decided to retire at the end of the year.

It was interesting to read the news around Serena Williams and the word retirement. There is still a real stigma around it. People have a vision of me sitting on a beach but it was a transition into my second career.

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I’m now also involved with Bioglan Balance, which is centred around holistic health. I did a pilates session and it’s about all-round health as much as it is mental or physical. It is something I always needed and physically less demanding than rugby. It allows me to protect and look after my body and have time to relax and reflect. It also allows me to find balance in the hectic, daily routine I am normally part of.

When I’m behind the microphone on punditry duties, Collin will still text me in the middle of matches. ‘You've got that law wrong,’ he’ll write. ‘Have you seen what the opposition are doing on the offside line?’

He still watches a lot of rugby and he will be forever someone I will stay in touch with. He led me to rugby and I will forever say that sport has changed my life because of it.

Ugo Monye has partnered with supplement brand Bioglan for their first series ‘In Bioglan Balance’ alongside influencer Mat Carter to show how he finds balance in his busy life. To watch the series, visit @bioglansupplements on Instagram

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