Mel with a good 'friend*' and 'resting' after a trip away
864. That’s the number of words in this piece, but still not enough to afford more than a glimpse of Richmond legend Mel Deane. Most often spotted on the touchline these days in his role of fitness and conditioning coach for RFC, the man has over thirty years of rugby under his belt, more than a dozen of them playing at the highest levels in the best sides with the likes of Jason Robinson, Alan Bateman and Andrew Merhtens, and suffering not in the slightest in comparison to such paragons.
He’s an unusual Irishman in some ways. Born in London but christened after Irish Saint Mel, would you believe? Brought up in a pub but doesn’t drink, with a father and grandfather who had pubs and they didn’t drink either – his dad still has a boozer in north London. He had a few early years in Ireland, then came back and joined initially Ruislip, then on to Wasps where he made the 2s.
He came to RFC for his first professional contract as a 21 year old centre in 96. Anybody around at the time will remember just how enervating it all was – Pichot, Davies, Bateman, the Quinnells – RFC was absolutely glittering with talent and Mel proved well worth his place in the line-up. It all ended in tears, of course, and he particularly remembers the stack of P45s on the table. “Sad” is all he says now, but it obviously hurt at the time. He’d done Sports Science with Geography at Brunel so he had other strings to his bow, but progression to even higher levels in rugby dominated his thinking.
So off to Connacht in 99, as he had hopes of an Ireland cap and understood his path in that direction would be smoother if he played there. It didn’t really work out for him, though. He’s keenly aware that fitness and conditioning are key in the game, and was a strong advocate of the need to be in great shape even back then to play really well, but it wasn’t a widely shared view amongst his peers at the club. Back then there was a “piss-up” culture which we older rugby warriors will remember with some affection but beer guts and hangovers don’t make for 80 minutes of non-stop athletic excellence. He’s very fond of Connacht but at the time it wasn’t right for him and he only stayed a few months.
Then two and a half years at Sale. He “loved it”. Playing with Robinson, Hodgson, Hanley, Cueto and the others made him a better player, either at 12 or 13 depending on the size and pace of his centre partner, but such formidable competition for a starting spot caused him to move on when Quins came calling in 2003, the year he married his school sweetheart. He stayed with them for the next four years and says a bunch of Paddies, Paul Burke amongst them, helped turn the club around and put it back to former glory.
It’s around this time that he was twice picked on the bench for Ireland but he never got off it, never got the cap. That has to be an unscratchable itch but he’s cool, or at least he says he is. He was back at Connacht for another, longer two year stint and this time round found everything much more professional and to his liking. But now in his thirties change was on the cards. He’d never lost touch with Peter Moore at RFC and he was persuaded to come back in a training capacity. There was a couple of run-outs for the Firsts but a broken hand put a stop to that kind of thing and now he plays Irish Legends stuff and “odd bits” like 10s.
You have to ask him. “Who did you really rate”? Gus Pichot is the first name, and he’s still a mate. He shows me a bottle of wine from the Pichot vineyards in Argentina which Gus had just given him to pass on to Rob Andrew for getting him a couple of Twickenham tickets. (Our Gus is loaded, it seems.) Then Tuigamalu for sheer power, Mehrtens for skill, Greenwood and Bateman for ability, Keith Wood and Vos for captaincy and Jason Robinson because the guy walks on water.
Alongside his RFC commitments he has a thriving personal training business, everything from work at Harrow School to regular sessions with a billionaire up the West End, and lives in Teddington with his wife and two daughters. He’d like his own gym and there might be possibilities in that direction in the future - somewhere he can practice the Israeli martial arts he’s very keen on called Krav Maga. He’s sporting a damaged nose today so improvement there is clearly called for.
If you Google Mel you’ll find he still hankers after running a pub. And remember he doesn’t drink. So come on, Mel, would you give it all up right now if I handed you The Sun, lock, stock and barrels? “I’m not sure the Guvnor would be too happy me jumping into bed with his missus. I’m not sure she would be either.”
* Craig Quinnell, who played for Richmond when we were in the Premiership