Overnight Guinness Premiership sensation Andrew Fenby turned out for Wales Schools – at squash. The Blaydon flyer told Nick Purewal how backward bureaucracy and a broken scaphoid delayed his burgeoning rugby career.
MAYBE that sidestep was born on the squash courts of Rydal Penrhos School in Colwyn Bay.
Blaydon winger Andrew Fenby has skinned all manner of men in National League Two this term, racking up 16 tries from as many league games, and one absolute belter in the EDF National Trophy at Nottingham.
His trademark jinking runs and dipping shoulders have bamboozled defences up and down the land for four years at Crow Trees, but it is a fair bet he developed the transferrable skills at his alma mater.
That he acquired his admirable fleet feet indulging in racquet sports rather than rugby is a point of intrigue from a player who seems wholly at ease with his rising status.
Rhos-on-Sea-born Fenby is 23 and only now breaking through at Newcastle Falcons – he may, of course, not be granted the dream contract, and the professional game could elude him.
But even if he does miss out, his Roy of the Rovers tale will always endure for North East rugby aficionados.
Scoring a Premiership try against Sale at Edgeley Park four minutes into any debut is a feat, but from a fully-qualified chartered accountant who had to be back at work the next morning, these days that is something truly memorable.
The schools and youth systems let Fenby slip through the net, but if there was bitterness at the time, he could always stalk the squash courts in anger.
The age-old rugby hindrance that is internal politics, it seems, played a crucial part in pushing Fenby to pick up that racquet.
But then, had he not excelled in squash, perhaps he would never have ended up in Newcastle in the first place.
“I actually was part of Newcastle University’s elite sports programme because of my squash,” explained the PriceWaterhouseCoopers accountant. “I broke my wrist before going to uni and could not play any contact sports for a year, so got stuck into the squash, and I only ever played for Newcastle once at rugby.
“I played rugby for the school team and Llandudno rugby club, but never made an impression on the representative scene. If you come from North Wales, you really don’t get a look-in for the Wales age-group teams, but it never bothered me that much, I just played as much sport as I could and enjoyed all of it.”
If finishing comes naturally to Fenby, he is perfectly capable of making – as well as taking – his own chances.
That 80-metre stunner at Nottingham made a few National One teams take notice, and Fenby reckons it could be the best of his 73 tries in 78 Blaydon appearances. “The Nottingham try is probably the one to stand out most, I think,” he said. “But I’ve run in a few other half-decent ones, too, the one against Wharfedale was not bad.”
If not bad means running 50 metres and beating six men to score under the sticks, Fenby has high standards.
But when he pitched up at Blaydon in 2004 as an untried 19-year-old with no badges to back up his raw talent, he had to start right at the bottom. So doing the same thing again at the Falcons comes as no surprise, or problem. “When I joined Blaydon, I had no pedigree, or anyone talking me up to the coaches,” Fenby explained. “So I just turned up and got stuck into training. I played for the thirds at first and things just progressed from there.
“The same thing kind of happened with the Falcons – the Blaydon coaches recommended me to Newcastle and I was invited to get involved with training. Then I played a couple of games for the Development team, which were great fun.
“Things stalled a bit after that, but I had to concentrate on the ACA qualification that I passed in November and means I am fully qualified now. That was the hardest thing I have ever had to do, so I could not commit much time at all to the Falcons. Now things are a bit less hectic and work have been great with me in the last few weeks.
“I know I got the chance because of a few injuries and John Rudd being suspended, but I’d love to get the chance to turn professional.
“If it doesn’t happen, though, I’ll stick with Blaydon, because it’s a great club and they have been brilliant with developing me as a player.
“The other thing I’ve really got to do is join a local squash club – I haven’t played for a while and have been meaning to do it for ages.”