One of the by-products of the pandemic has been the restrictions on travel from one end of the country to the other. Weekends away have been cancelled, regular long commutes consigned to the shredder (for the time being, at least), and the trains and motorways have been conspicuously quieter than ever before.
Elite sport is one significant exception, not just in teams maintaining their fixture lists, but in player movement between clubs.
So this is how Cpl Lewis Bean (Rifles) was able to swap his usual civilian rugby colours of black, green and gold for black and blue in the latter portion of 2020, heading on loan from Northampton Saints to Glasgow Warriors to help ease an injury crisis in the Scottish outfit’s engine room.
This time last year Saints were similarly underpowered, with Courtney Lawes and Api Ratuniyarawa away at the World Cup, meaning that Cpl Bean was a regular in the first team match squad, racking up 15 appearances in all competitions.
However with game time likely to be more restricted this season, when offered the opportunity to spend some time north of the border by Saints Director of Rugby Chris Boyd Cpl Bean had little hesitation in accepting.
“Straight after a training session Boydy came up to me, told me that Glasgow had a crisis situation in the locks and asked me what my thoughts were,” he says. “With all the locks coming back, Courtney, Ribeye [David Ribbans], Api, and with Nick Isiekwe coming in, they were probably going to start, so I thought that I might go and experience something different and get some game time.
“At this stage of my career game time is everything. Every rugby player wants to be playing as often as they can, so for me to get some game time in the Pro14 at a decent level I was definitely up for that.
“It was quite refreshing to get away from Franklin’s Gardens and see something new. Danny [Wilson, head coach] is a really good coach and it’s nice to have a different pair of eyes critiquing you in a different way which was helpful.”
With his partner Ellen living in Northern Ireland there were no family concerns for Cpl Bean, with flights to the Midlands swapped for flights to Glasgow before the lockdown restrictions kicked in once more, even if she was not able to watch him play in person, Scotstoun having been closed to spectators throughout the season so far.
Had this been possible, she would have seen Cpl Bean get to grips with a different style of rugby from that which he has been used to in England.
“Glasgow like to play quick, moving the ball about,” he says. “So it was good to play at a bit of pace, and good to learn something new in a different structure. Saints like to play fast, but it’s fast in different ways. In the Premiership it’s physical, but while the Pro 14 is also physical it’s a lot faster as well.
“I’d not experienced the Pro 14, but I played away at Leinster in the European Cup. They’re in the Pro 14 so I knew it wasn’t going to be a pushover league.
“It was good to get on and sign off with a try [against Edinburgh]. I saw my opportunity and took it. Glasgow had asked me to do a job for them, I felt that I performed well for them and done what they asked me to do.
“In this day and age in rugby you have to learn quickly. So when you go into a new squad and are thrown a load of new plays it’s up to you as a professional to learn these new roles and moves. Ultimately if you don’t learn them then you don’t get picked.”
The restrictions of the pandemic means that the life experience of being in a new city were somewhat limited, but even so Cpl Bean was able to settle in with his new team mates, ultimately making five appearances and scoring that one try in the final minute of his final game.
“Glasgow seemed to be a good city to me,” he says. “Before lockdown I’d go for coffees with the players, who were a good bunch of lads. They took me in, helped me out and we had a good laugh.
“Rugby environments now are so good and so diverse. There are people from all walks of life and so much culture. Everyone just fits in together.
“The boys at Saints are absolutely brilliant and I go into work with a smile on my face each day – that’s what makes it such a good club. And at Glasgow we had Islanders, a couple of Irish and a Kiwi, exactly the same as every other club, and the same as every Army rugby club.”
Cpl Bean says that his time in the Army helped prepare him for such speedy adjustments in a work situation.
“The best skill the Army has taught me is to have confidence with meeting new people and not being afraid to speak in front of large groups of new people. So going into new environments doesn’t faze me, I quite enjoy it.”
Speaking of enjoyment, Cpl Bean has a strong friendship with Sam Matavesi, the Fiji and Royal Navy hooker, who lives two doors away from him in Northampton.
“He’s a top bloke and we get along very well. Before lockdown I was pretty much living at his house, going around there for tea every night and looking after his kids. There is a bit of banter about Army Navy, but Sam’s a very competitive person anyway, whether it’s playing basketball in the back garden, five-a-side football, or rock paper scissors, we’re so competitive with each other!”
Cpl Bean signed for the Saints 18 months ago. But he’s not now the newest Army player in the Premiership, Pte Ratu ‘Siva’ Naulago (Yorks) having joined Bristol just before Christmas. Pte Naulago came with a reputation as a try machine from Super League outfit, Hull FC, and Cpl Bean is not surprised to see him slot straight into the first team at Ashton Gate.
“I know Siva really well,” he says. “He’s a phenomenal player and I always knew he’d slot in easily at Bristol. He obviously knew what he wanted to achieve when he signed for Bears, and he scores tries – that’s his job!”
From a professional perspective Cpl Bean is still relatively early in his career, even as a 28-year-old, and he believes that there can be more years to come for him at the top level of the sport.
“I was talking about this with Boydy the other day. He was saying that I could have quite a few contracts in me if I keep my body right, stay fit and stay quick. And I think he’s right; I’ve got so much to learn and if I keep on the right track I can keep on going up and up.
“I’ve got to continue doing what I’m doing at Saints and time will tell.”
Words © Chris Wearmouth, Images © Craig Watson