In our final Q&A of 2019, Gavin Caney shines the spotlight on table-topping West Norfolk player PAUL BRIDGES
Was rugby your first sporting love?
No, I started off playing football at primary school, eventually joining Tilney Boys where I played from the age of five up until I was about 10 or 11 as a goalkeeper.
I then had a year-or-two hiatus before I was asked to go and train with Reffley. I played with them until I was 13.
Did you play rugby at secondary school?
I was introduced to rugby at secondary school (Park High, now King’s Lynn Academy) and quickly began to fall in love with playing – although at that early stage it was hard to get to grip with the rules.
It was also about the same time that England won the World Cup so that had a big influence on me. My head PE teacher, Gerry Bird, was also a rugby man so he pushed me to join West Norfolk after my football team folded. I guess he was one of the biggest influences on my rugby career.
I played a couple of times for the year above but my own year had quite a tight-knit team, although quite a few of the boys played football outside of school. I was captain of our year’s team as I was one of the few that actually played rugby outside of school. We did get to the county cup final once but lost to Langley.
As a teenager, what did playing rugby teach you and how did it improve life?
Discipline is a huge factor in rugby and playing the game makes you realise how a moment of ill-discipline can have an effect on not only the game but team-mates as well.
Rugby is also such a social game and many of the guys I played with at youth level are still close friends today – three of them were ushers at my wedding. The main thing rugby highlights for me though is teamwork.
If you work hard for your team-mates, they will work hard for you and there’s nothing like playing on a Saturday with a great bunch of lads who are willing to put their bodies on the line for you, just as much as you will for them.
What’s life like at West Norfolk? You’ve been there for 16 years so you must love the club.
I am biased but we have such a great, welcoming, family atmosphere at the club. There’s always the saying that if you’re new to an area and don’t know anyone then go and join a rugby club.
We pride ourselves on being a grassroots club that is open to players of all abilities and ages, which is precisely the reason why I joined and have stuck around. We have recently received RFU accreditation for the quality of our age-grade rugby again and we see a huge number of players transitioning through the ages into our senior sides most years, which is something we are all proud of.
However, most importantly, it’s the volunteers that make the club and their vital work is what inspires others to get involved and help out.
You worked your way through the club’s teams to represent the first team for the last 10 years. Was that always the aim?
As a youth player, I always saw the first team as the pinnacle of where I wanted to be. You see professionals on TV but it’s not always something you can see happening, whereas the firsts were the elite of what I felt I could achieve.
I was also selected to represent Norfolk a couple of times but my greatest honour was to become first-team captain, a duty that I carried out during the 2016/17 and 2017/18 seasons. It is probably my proudest rugby moment, especially as it was for the club I love during a period of transition where we didn’t always have the strongest squad.
You’ve had a perfect start to this season, winning all 10 of your London Eastern Counties NE3 fixtures. What do you put that stunning start down to?
This season we have managed to keep a consistent side most weeks with nearly all the players having played together for the last couple of years.
We also have a fantastic coaching set up in Darren Clarke as head coach, aided by Reggie Dunn and Tom Jones, all of whom have a similar approach to the game. The players also very much enjoy the training and want to prove that they can do the coaches proud on the pitch, which is also highlighted in how strong our development side has been this year.
Our firsts are only as good as our development side, who are constantly challenging for places, which in turn makes us all want to play at our best.
Have you seen an upturn in interest in Wests locally since England’s run to the World Cup final?
The World Cup was really good for advertising the game, especially for younger players and children who were inspired to get into the game.
We did see a couple of new players for the seniors but the biggest impact was in the youth and minis. With the timing of the games in the morning it was quite often a good motivator for our games later on that day as you were on a high from England’s great performances.
Finally, 2019 is almost over, what’s your aims for 2020?
I’d love to see us continue with our unbeaten run and secure promotion to what would be the highest level of rugby I have ever played and the club has seen for quite a few years. A good run in the cup would also be fantastic and the ultimate goal in that would be a trip to Twickenham, which could come in three or four games, if we keep winning. Most of all I just want us to perform the best we can and continue to support the rest of the club – especially the aspiring younger players who make up the foundations of West Norfolk Rugby Club.
The facts are…
Name: Paul Bridges
Date of birth: 18/11/1990
Birth place: King’s Lynn
Grew up in: Wiggenhall St Germans
Secondary School: Park High (now King’s Lynn Academy)
Current club: West Norfolk
Position: Tighthead prop
Sporting hero: Dwayne Johnson (The Rock)
• Bridges works in the main theatres at King’s Lynn’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital as an operating department practitioner.
• The tighthead prop once appeared with West Norfolk Rugby Club on BT Sport’s Rugby Tonight as a demo team.
• Bridges once ate a 4lb burger for a charity event. He was the only one to finish it out of 108 people.
• Bridges has played for the club pretty much his whole adult life. In the only season he had to miss, due to a back injury, West Norfolk got promoted!
• After his maiden first-team appearance, Bridges ended up sitting on the side of the A10 with his head in a KFC bucket, thanks to the team’s seniors!
Restaurant or takeaway?
Night in or night out?
Bath or shower?
Tea or coffee?
Sweet or savoury?
Summer or winter?
Day or night?
Cinema or theatre?
Favourite food: Meat, anything – especially barbecue
Least favourite: Sardines
Favourite TV programme: Peaky Blinders
Favourite band/musician: Oasis
Favourite film: Independence Day
Least favourite film: High School Musical
Answers in italics