Simon Easterby’s inside knowledge of Welsh rugby could prove the difference on Sunday – here we take a look at the man with a foot in both camps but his heart in an Ireland jersey.
Date of Birth: 21 July 1975
Height: 191cm (6ft 3ins)
Weight: 106kg (16st 7lbs)
Debut: v Scotland, February 2000
Lions Test Caps: 2
The defining moment will arrive for both Ireland and Wales sometime around 4.30pm at Lansdowne Road on Sunday afternoon…
Ireland versus Wales is a tie bathed in emotion, apprehension, and a lot of expectation. Post Paris means that rugby tongues are wagging. It also means that the gathered masses at Lansdowne Road on Sunday afternoon will probably be praying for a re-run of the Stade de France second half extravaganza, a “derring-do” Irish adventure that even Bonapartre would be proud of.
You can be sure that Sunday’s game will be high voltage stuff. And central to everything will be pride. Defending champions Wales got clocked by England and then beat Scotland – they won’t be surrendering their title too easily.
But back to our ‘defining moment’ and the Irish player who may well be Ireland’s cause celebre. Irish flanker Simon Easterby is the captain of Llanelli Scarlets. The Welsh club will have six men on the pitch on Sunday afternoon and one on the bench – these are interesting facts that should add a little bit of spice to Ireland’s pre-match chat.
…Simon Easterby contest for a high ball with Ireland team mate Shane Horgan in a recent Celtic League game…
Of course Simon knows just how and when the challenge will come from his club colleagues. As captain of the club, it’s his job to understand the mindset, the strengths and even the weaknesses of his club mates. Dammit, he probably even knows what most of them will have for breakfast on match morning. Indeed the Irishman is so close to the soul of Welsh rugby he could probably reach out and touch it. He remembers the passion, which engulfed the Valleys last year when Wales came in from the wilderness with the Championship.
As an outsider who lives in the opposition’s camp he’s acutely aware that the passion that rained down on Wales’s Championship last year can be ignited again. It just takes one or two moments of sublime rugby. Of course for most weeks of the year, Easterby doesn’t feel like an outsider when he’s togging out for the Scarlets and he won’t on Sunday when he meets and greets his clubmates before and after the match. For him, it will feel like both sides of his family coming together for a special occasion. But for 80 minutes he will have to shun one side in favour of the other. The feelings of his Welsh wife and in-laws will take a back seat behind those of his Irish ancestry.
This is a special occasion for Simon. The big one he earmarks months in advance every year, the one with that added bit of spice. Playing in front of a packed Lansdowne surrounded on both sides by those players he knows best. Driven by the will to do his best for his country and also the desire to have one up on his mates – and yes his wife and in-laws – when he returns to ‘domestic’ action.
…Simon captained Ireland against New Zealand and Australia in the permanent tsb Autumn Internationals…
Thus far Simon, whose brother Guy plays scrum-half for Leinster, has won 47 caps for
Ireland and captained the national side during the Autumn International series against New Zealand and Australia. Simon made the big breakthrough in 2000 when he earned his first cap for Ireland against Scotland in February of that year. For young Easterby, the good times were beginning to roll. Forty-six further appearances for Ireland followed, as did the captaincy of the Llanelli team that played Munster in the final of the 2004/05 Celtic Cup. But perhaps one of the sweetest moments of all came last summer when he was called into the Lions squad as a replacement for the injured Lawrence Dallaglio. That was a heaven-sent opportunity and Simon capitalised on it by scoring a try in the second Test against the All Blacks.
Simon comes from Harrowgate, which is deep in the vales of Yorkshire. As a youngster he learned his rugby with Harrowgate Rugby Club and attended Ampleforth College, which was the alma mater of the late Cardinal Basil Hume. As he progressed on the rugby fields of Yorkshire it was hardly surprising that he would come to the notice of the ever watchful Feidhlim McLoughlin who works for the Exiles group which is under the auspices of the IRFU. On Sunday, Easterby will use his own ‘exile’ experience as he attempts to mastermind an Irish victory, and break the hearts of those who support him at club level.