Back in rugby union’s amateur days, the England team regularly featured a sprinkling of PE teachers.
Bath’s Grand Slam winning fly half John Horton springs readily to mind – a neat player who loved getting flat to the line to release the pace of Messrs Woodward (whatever happened to him?), Slemen and Carleton.
If you are willing to overlook 13 England caps, the former head of PE at Bloxham School in Oxfordshire and current Birmingham Moseley No.10 Ben Palmer therefore have a lot in common.
As Billesley Common followers have already discovered, their summer signing is unlikely to die wondering. As a consequence, Palmer’s acceleration and eye for a break has National One defences twitching nervously, while his ability to pick a pass has already delivered support runners a handful of easy run-ins.
Like Horton, Palmer’s Monday-to-Friday life is spent in a PE department – in his case at Bishop Challinor School in Kings Heath.
And as the 26-year-old explains, his teaching has shaped a rugby career which has included two stints at his hometown club Coventry, plus spells at Albanian and North Otago in New Zealand.
“I rejoined Coventry from Albanian in 2017 when they were in National One and training three evenings per week,” he said.
“I stayed until the end of last season, but after their promotion into the Championship they went full-time. They asked me to stay but I wanted to complete my teaching qualification.
“I’m from Coventry, so it was a big decision for me, but deep down I knew that I had to concentrate on my career as I don’t want to get to 30 and not know what is next.”
As a consequence of being unable to participate in daytime training, Palmer became surplus to requirements at the Butts Park Arena. He went on loan to South Leicester then Chinnor, but was far from happy with this itinerant rugby lifestyle.
“I just didn’t enjoy being on loan as I felt I didn’t belong,” he explained.
“As a loan player you feel like you are being pulled from one place to another. A fly half needs a run of games or a full pre-season to really get to know the calls and the players around him, otherwise it is hard to get a feel for things.
“I’ve played all the pre-season games and the first four in the league here at Moseley, which is a much better situation and I’m loving it.”
With Palmer and Jonny Arr pulling the strings, the Red-and-Blacks have scored 21 tries in September, and their No.10 is clearly relishing his new club’s playing style.
“We’re quite expansive, which suits me, but also have the ability to play with a more direct style as we did at Cinderford,” he says.
“We have a framework which we broadly stick to, but our coaches have said that we should back ourselves and have a go if we identify a good chance.
“I love having that freedom to be a bit off-the-cuff when the moment is right as I’m the kind of player who likes to take it to the line and maybe even go myself.
“It’s also been great having Jonny inside me, as sometimes when I’m saying ‘let’s play’ he will decide that slowing it down is a better option.
“As a No.10, having that experienced person to guide you and help out with the decision making is really helpful, and we’re all learning with every game.”
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