Tim Visser is not just the biggest name in Dutch rugby, he is the only name. Luke Edwards talked to the Newcastle Falcon who has been tipped to become the first Dutchman to play for England
AMSTERDAM has always been synonymous with the diamond trade, but few would have expected the Newcastle Falcons to unearth a gem of a player in the Dutch capital.
In Tim Visser, however, the Falcons do not only have the first and only professional rugby player in Holland, they also have a young man whose talent suggests he could one day become the first Dutchman to play international rugby for England.
Discovering a potentially world class rugby player in Holland is unheard of, the equivalent of finding the world’s best cricketer in a Japanese village or the next global football sensation in Sri Lanka.
Indeed, when Falcons head coach John Fletcher, then in charge of the club’s Academy, received a call from Falcon players Joe Shaw and James Grindal informing him of their discovery, he would have been forgiven for thinking the pair had been indulging themselves on “space cakes” in one of the Amsterdam’s infamous coffee shops.
But if Fletcher initially thought the call was a wind-up, he was sensibly willing to listen to them, after both insisted they had spotted a magnificent talent while attending the Amsterdam Sevens Tournament. The 16-year-old Visser was invited to Kingston Park for a trial and, just few months later, was sitting in his first class as a sixth form student studying for his A-Levels at Barnard Castle School in County Durham.
“The club has very good links with Barnard Castle and when I came over for a trial, I was still very young, I’d just done the equivalent of my GCSEs in Holland, they said they wanted me to go to a school here and play rugby that way,” said Visser, who has cheekily booked a place at Northumbria University with the help of an A-Level in Dutch.
“I was still too young to play for the second team and it was a choice between Barnard Castle or Durham School. It wasn’t my choice, but it was what the club wanted me to do and I was willing to do it if it gave me chance of playing rugby for an English team like Newcastle.”
The shock to Visser’s system, swapping his life in Holland for an English public school, must have been immense, but his skills on the rugby pitch quickly earned him the respect of his new classmates, as well as the growing interest of Falcons coaches.
At school, Visser was seen as a flanker, but when the then 19-year-old Dutchman came off the bench to score the winning try against Worcester last season, it was in his new position as a winger. This season, Visser has also played at centre, while Fletcher believes his long-term future could see him return to the forwards but, if he has struggled to find a settled position during his formative rugby years, it is nothing compared to the struggle he has taken on to raise the profile of the sport in his homeland.
“I hope I can help develop the game in Holland. Since I came over, there has been a lot of media interest back home in me, which can only be a good thing because it puts rugby more in the spotlight. It’s a really small sport in Holland, I think there are about 120 amateur clubs, which isn’t bad for a small country, but the level is nowhere near as high as here.
“The biggest problem is the lack of funding, it isn’t one of the big sports so we don’t get any sort of funding. That’s the main problem, the players don’t get time or funding to practice. There is no element of professionalism, it’s just very hard to drive it forward because of that.
“The first thing that has to change is the funding, as soon as money is made available, it means players can get more time off work to play and train. It will also mean the clubs will develop their facilities. That just isn’t there at the moment.”
Ironically, the one thing that will raise interest levels in Holland to a new high is when Visser switches his allegiance to England.
In a little over 12 months time, the 20-year-old will qualify to play for England under the residency clause and it is a sacrifice of nationality he is all too willing to make.
“If I can make it into the England team, it would spark another wave of publicity for the sport in Holland,” said Visser, who has already played for England schools.
“It would be a big thing to have a Dutchman playing rugby for a team as strong as England. I’m already the only professional Dutch player. It would be good for Holland to have something like that to spark off interest.
“You’ve got to be here for three years with this country being your primary residence. I’ve been here for two so I think it’s another year.
“The time at Barnard Castle didn’t count because I was at boarding school and I was still living with my parents in Holland.
“I don’t think of myself as English, I really enjoy living in England, but I still think of myself as Dutch. But I would have to play for England for the good of my career.
“If I don’t make the grade here I would be honoured to play for Holland, because it’s my home country, but considering the level, I really do want to play for England.
I have learned the words to the England national anthem, but I sing “God Save Your Queen”. Nobody has noticed yet.”
Given his progress over the last four years, few would bet against Visser – whose dad Marc played 80 times for Holland– making the grade and he will start against the Cetransa El Salvador in the European Challenge Cup this weekend, his 11th appearance of the season for the Falcons first team. Not bad for a young man who, strictly speaking is still at university.
Visser had too much pace and power for Cetransa back in November as the Falcons ran in 11 tries in a 71-10 victory, but if the Spaniards look out of their depth, Visser knows it is important they are given the opportunity to play at this level.
He added: “We’re aiming for something similar to what we had out there when we ran in 11 tries. It will depend on the weather a bit, but we should be aiming for something like that again against opposition like this.
“It’s very important that rugby gets developed all around the world just to raise the level and participation in other countries. Teams from Spain find it quite hard, but it’s only good for them because they are going to learn from the experience of playing stronger teams.
“It will be hard game for them, but you can’t take anything for granted. We’re not sitting there saying we’re going to try and get 100 points on the board, we just want to play as well as we can and the tries and the points will come after that.”
The biggest problem in Holland is the lack of funding, it isn’t one of the big sports. That’s the main problem, the players don’t get time or funding to practice