Jason Oakes: I lived the rugby dream with Newcastle Falcons

Jason Oakes rubbed the rugby lamp and out popped the genie, when Rob Andrew and the Falcons came calling

Jason Oakes
Jason Oakes

Chuckling at the question because he knows the answer sounds so far-fetched, Jason Oakes relives the moment his fantasy of playing for Newcastle Falcons became a reality.

It was spring 2006 and, aside from obvious uncertainties over how a 6ft 7in man and his wife can both fit into the same bath-tub, the Consett-born forward was about to embark on a fairytale that took him from gas boiler repair man to Premiership rugby star and back again, all inside two years.

“I don’t think I’ve ever told anyone the real story of what actually happened,” he says with a grin.

“It probably sounds ridiculous.

“I was sitting in the bath with my wife, and I said to her I just wished I could have a single year playing for Newcastle Falcons.

“Literally a week later I had a call completely out of the blue from Rob Andrew, their director of rugby, and I couldn’t believe it.”

Spending the summer in a whirlwind, the 36-year-old explains: “I had been playing for Otley in the Championship, and Rob asked me up to Kingston Park for an interview. Steve Black, the conditioning coach, took me to the gym under the West Stand to have a look at me and, as I walked in, Jonny Wilkinson and Matt Burke were there.

“Burkey, a World Cup winner with Australia, came over and said ‘G’day mate’, and I was just stood there like a little kid thinking, ‘Matt Burke just talked to ME’.

“This absolute legend of world rugby would go on to become a close friend of mine over the next couple of years, but at the time I couldn’t believe I was even in the same room as him.

“I had a fitness test with Blackie, and with being a part-time player I obviously had a lot of ground to make up on the full-time professionals.

“Rob then took me into one of the offices in the stadium, asked what terms I wanted and it was all agreed on the spot.

“I started straightaway in fat camp, my own pre-season before the rest of the players started.

“Bob Morton, one of our coaches, made it his personal mission to get me into shape, and it was horrible.

“I was training every single day while everyone else was on holiday, and the only day I had off was when my baby daughter Jenny was born. I was back in the next day, but it needed to be done.”

An Achilles injury two years into a burgeoning career brought a premature end to Oakes’ playing days, but the trademark smile bears evidence of his heartfelt belief that there are no regrets in the world for a life well lived.

“It was great. The best time of my life,” he says.

“After that first pre-season the lads knew what I was going to do on the pitch, and the whole thing was just a dream. We had a fantastic season, we were winning at home most weeks and selling the stadium out for big games.

“I started almost 30 matches, making my debut against London Irish. I had a really good start, but the whole thing was just a blur.

“I got involved, put myself about and was playing every week. I loved every second of it.”

An enforcer, doing the dirty stuff in his own quiet way, he recalls: “It really was a dream come true, playing with all these England backs against some of the greats of the world game.

“I got on really well with Toby Flood, who I knew already from the Northumberland county team, and guys like a New Zealand All Black in Mark Mayerhofler were amazing to work with.

“They just made me look good, and I did the things I knew I could do. That was basically putting myself about and trying to hurt people, and they are friends for life now.” His broad Geordie accent undiminished, Oakes says: “With John Fletcher, Peter Walton, Steve Black and Bob Morton on the coaching team there was a massive North East influence.

“It was special – magical even.

“Fletch was an inspiration for the players, and you just wanted to do it for him.

“We went to Clermont in a European quarter-final and should have won there, against all these superstars. We could do it against anybody on our day, and I don’t think that we werefar away from becoming one of the best.

“We were probably a season and a half away from doing it, but it all got pulled when Fletch was sacked and a lot of the players left.”

Now a director of Oakes Energy after six years of building up his business, he says: “I’m off the tools now.

“I started getting back servicing gas boilers, which was what I had been doing before playing professional rugby.

“I have since got in with my business partner, Derek Dowson, and we are flying. We are turning over more than £1m, and we are big into renewables.

“We specialise in heat pumps for the commercial and social housing sector, which absorbs air from the atmosphere and turns it into heat for your radiators.

“We do bio-mass work on stately homes, heating multiple properties, and it is going really well. I meet everybody, get the work in and make sure everything is running to plan. It is a real growth industry.

“I am so busy at the moment, and just enjoying life. It’s all about being happy, and I have got a lot to be happy about.”

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