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Written By: Karen Gasbarino-Knutt
Next month Lewis Moody, MBE, turns 40 years old.
That’s still young by today’s standards. But Moody, former England Rugby captain and professional rugby player, has already lived a lifetime full of ambition and accomplishment; much of which since his retirement from the game.
For some it would be difficult to know how to fill a life post-retirement, let alone find a way for it to have half as much meaning as an esteemed playing career chock full of caps and captaincies. But not Moody. He’s managed to parlay his renown as a member of England’s most prestigious team – the 2003 World Cup winning squad – to his post-playing days; he has his own foundation and spends a significant amount of time working to remember rugby players who served in the great wars.
His is a life spent giving back.
Moody has many projects that he devotes his time and energy to. He uses his considerable influence and fitness in many ways to raise awareness and to help others, believing that he and others like him have a responsibility to do what they can where they are able.
Ædelhard is honoured that Lewis Moody took time out of his considerably packed schedule to talk to us about his foundation work, the work he’s been doing with the RFU Great War Commemorative Committee, and his final World Cup outing with the England team in 2011, among other things.
You made your international debut in 2001 against Canada on a tour to North America. Any standout memories for you?
"I remember Canada being a beautiful part of the world where rugby was still growing. We played at a small club [Fletcher’s Field Markham, Ontario on June 2], but it was a special day pulling on that England jersey for the 1st time.
I still remember watching the Canadian team that did so well in the '91 World Cup with big Norm Hadley and Gareth Rees, so I understood the history of the Canadian team and that it would be a tough encounter."
You had injury ups and downs during your career. Was the goal always to get to your third World Cup in 2011 and then leave it all behind you? Did it go to plan despite all the injuries?
"From an international point of view, I had always planned to retire after the 2011 World Cup.
That said, I also planned to play out my two-year contract for Bath upon my return and enjoy my club rugby. However, in my first game back after the World Cup, I landed badly on my shoulder, which required its fourth operation, and ultimately it meant I had to retire.
I would love to have played those final seasons but I can’t complain as I had an incredible 16 years playing this wonderful game, and being a part of some incredible teams that enjoyed huge success."
Moody was captain of England at a difficult crossroads for the team. England Rugby was under much scrutiny at RWC 2011 in New Zealand. There was a mix of the old regime with the young squad coming in, new professional players with high profile contracts. World media was particularly harsh, and any misstep by any England player was widely publicized. Added to this was the fact that 2011 was really the first World Cup where the players were more accessible to supporters with social media being used more widely than ever before.
With so many new factors to consider, the team was burdened with bad press, and the players weren't putting their best effort on the pitch. Difficult circumstances for the team and it’s leadership. I asked Moody how it was to captain under these circumstances.
There must have been a lot of pressure on you at World Cup 2011, especially as there was some unhelpful media at the time. How did you manage to keep your focus?
"We were under the microscope in New Zealand and it was very disappointing to allow the situations that occurred to give the media something to talk about other than rugby.
We had a good young side that wasn’t good enough to win that tournament but should definitely have reached the semi-final, so it was very disappointing to lose to France in the quarter-final.
As a professional player, I was there to do a job, so it was just about focusing on the games and trying not to let the stuff going on in the back ground affect the rest of the team."
Moody feels fortunate to have no lingering issues from injuries suffered over his 16 year playing career. He sustained an horrific eye injury in a Premiership match when his face met the boot of opponent Charlie Sharples on October 1, 2010, months before the 2011 World Cup. After initially losing all sight in the eye, it came back to 70% strength, which Moody explains the brain has learned to overcome.
He says that other than his shoulder, he's in otherwise "fine shape, which is remarkable, considering.” It’s most advantageous that Moody has no ill-effects of his playing career – it permits him the ability to climb mountains and cycle across countries for his Foundation.
You've given much back since formally hanging up the boots in 2012. Please explain how you and wife Annie established the Lewis Moody Foundation in 2014:
"After the loss of a young talented rugby player Joss Rowley Stark in 2012, my wife and I decided to focus our charitable efforts and set up the Foundation.
We work with the incredible brain tumour charity [in order] to target three key areas to help fund – the award winning HeadSmart Campaign, which has helped halve diagnosis times, research into early adult diagnosis, and putting on ‘family days’ [for the loved ones of those affected by brain tumours].
The foundation has given me real purpose and focus since retiring, and we have an incredible community that help support us and fundraise for us; individuals to teams and corporations, whether through events, their own challenges, or by joining one of our ‘HeadsUp’ series challenges supported by Y.CO, which has seen us trek to the North Pole, and cycle 1100 km across Vietnam and Cambodia and a coast to coast crossing of Costa Rica, all culminating at the South Pole in 2020.
All of this has helped us raise nearly one million pounds since we started in 2014."
As if that weren't enough, Lewis Moody is involved in far more. Mad Dog – as he was affectionately known in his playing days for never shying away from a tackle – also runs a company called Mad Dog Sport.
Can you tell us how Mad Dog Sport benefits kids?
"Mad Dog Sport puts character development programmes in state schools, using rugby as the tool to engage young students [who would otherwise not have as many opportunities to join rugby academies].
We have multiple schools around the south and southwest and have seen some incredible success stories [this includes boys who otherwise wouldn’t have had success with their studies leave school with excellent grades]."
It would be difficult for Moody to choose that which is closest to his heart, but at the moment he is particularly focused on his War Graves Commission work, especially as there are many notable anniversaries from 2014 to 2019. He has been very busy working to honour the men and women who fought and died in the Great War. It began with his Great-Grandfather.
Can you tell me what lead to your involvement with the RFU Great War Committee?
"I have been interested in WWI ever since I was given my [namesake and] Great Grandfather’s First World War medals as a young man. I have spent 20 years finding out more about his journey and those of that incredible generation.
The part that fascinated me was not glorifying war but trying to understand how everyday men and women dealt with such unimaginable adversity on a daily basis.
As the years went on, the interest turned toward all the young sportsmen and women who signed up and went off to fight.
This interest meant I have had the great privilege to be named the RFU Great War Ambassador for the centenary period, remembering all England players who served [but also those who died] in WWI.
This has led to my involvement in some special commemoration projects with the RFU Great War commemorative committee.
The creation of the rose and poppy gates that now adorn the entrance to Twickenham are a lasting memorial to all England internationals and a place to remember them."
The Rose and Poppy Film is a series of short films remembering all of rugby’s contributions to the war in England. Rugby teams, over all other sports, were the first to cancel rugby seasons and enlist en mass. Tynedale RFC famously enlisted as a team, which touched Moody greatly. He was also affected by the lives of four players: Jack King, Lancelot Noel Slocock, Cyril Lowe and the 1914 grand slam winning captain Ronald Poulton Palmer. In all, there were a great many lives lost with direct ties to Rugby teams throughout Great Britain.
Please share key moments of how rugby players left their mark on the Great War:
“A personal pilgrimage with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission to the 22 graves and memorials of all the England Internationals commemorated in France and Belgium was featured in an article in the Times.
Also, taking a delegation of the Great War Committee and descendants of internationals, including Alfred Maynard (the youngest to die) and Rev. Rupert Ingliss (the oldest to die) to the Menin Gate [in Ypres] to remember All players and place a wreath on behalf of the RFU.
We were there for a special task: Ronnie Poulton Palmers’ last words were “I shall never play at Twickenham again” so we undertook a soil transfer – taking a piece of Twickenham to his grave at Hyde Park Corner cemetery, Ploegsteert, Belgium, and returning soil from his grave to Twickenham, placed in a box under the soil so that he will now be there for current and future England players to connect to."
He notes his visit to Beaumont-Hamel, France, as being especially poignant. Many of the Newfoundland Regiment lost their lives and are commemorated there. Moody reflects it “is just the most thought-provoking memorial I have ever seen.”
Beyond life after rugby and Moody’s passion for recognizing those who fought and died, I asked his opinion about what it is that Tier Two nations need to do in order to bridge the gap with top ranking rugby nations. Moody says:
“I think there needs to be more funding and resources made available for the tier two nations to help develop them. 7s has seen so many nations develop their rugby over the past few years, and it would be wonderful to see the same development in the 15s game.”
Finally, with the Aviva Premiership final set to take place this coming weekend between the Exeter Chiefs and Saracens, I had to ask the expert who his money would be on to take the title this year. Moody offered:
“I think both teams are quality performers on the big stage, but I believe Exeter will sneak it as they have been the most consistent team this season, and have a great culture surrounding the club.”
For someone on the precipice of 40, Moody's is a life fully lived, with over half of it yet ahead. It's going to be interesting to see what the next phase brings. Another bicycle around a continent, more on-field commentating, more strides with his charities?
Whatever it is, we'll be there watching with interest.