Most people talk about adding another string to their bow, but Newcastle Falcons flanker Andy Saull has added six.
Bored with a sportsman’s life of vegetating in front of the TV between training sessions, the former England Saxons forward has been strumming his guitar round the pubs and clubs of Tyneside.
A self-confessed “average covers man” who has no musical aspirations other than enjoying himself, the Essex native has shown no stage-fright by leaping feet-first into his sideline venture.
“I am not particularly any good, but I am an active guy and just wanted a hobby that wasn’t cinema or computer games,” said Saull, the 25-year-old who joined Newcastle from Saracens last summer.
“We can’t have a swim or go for a jog because we need to rest between training, so one of my mates at Saracens took it upon himself to teach me the guitar.
“From there I have become self-taught, watched a load of videos on it, and I often have a little jam with our conditioner at the Falcons, Andy Perry.” Starting with private gatherings and expanding to public performances, the short-notice gigs are plugged on his twitter feed @andysaull) to a growing number of followers.
“Myself and one of the lads who now plays for Sale Sharks did a little showcase for the players and their partners at the end of last season, and we had a good old night playing in one of the local pubs,” he said. “From there I thought it was something I enjoyed doing, and it stops me from just sitting in on a night. It is something different, and one of my friends runs a night where he will give me a last-minute call when he has a gap to fill on his schedule.”
Playing down his act and ambitions, he added: “It is all covers. I have written my own stuff, but you really wouldn’t want to hear it. I have definitely not got a talent for writing, but if there is anyone after an average guitarist then I will happily join any band that wants me.
“From the open-mic nights I have seen around the North East there are truck-loads of people more talented than me at it, so I am down the pecking order for any Oasis wannabes.”
Not letting his pastime distract from the bread and butter of preparing for the Aviva Premiership opener on September 6, Saull has been happily grafting away during the tough summer months.
“I love the fitness and game side of pre-season and, for me, I am just like a kid running around the park,” he said.
“I don’t mind the conditioning, the weights or the rugby work, and it has been good so far.
“As well as the hard work we are putting in there have been a couple of team socials on the weekends, and that is a great way to get to know the new lads.”
Reporting positive progress with specific programmes for every single player, he said: “We all sat down with the conditioners at the end of last season and were asked if we wanted to be heavier, faster, stronger or whatever. Every person will have their own answer to that, so the schedules are very individualised and based around those needs. What I do know is that there have been records broken in fitness tests, on strength totals, and we are in a good place.
“As of last week we have tapered off the fitness. We are obviously doing little bits just to tweak it, but two weeks out from the Premiership season we are taking a normal training week.” Beaten 26-25 in Bayonne and 22-21 at home to Rotherham on Saturday, the Falcons meet Edinburgh in the Scottish border town of Hawick tomorrow before their league opener at Leicester on September 6.
“Every one of the signings will really add to the squad, not that I want to single any of them out,” said Saull, director of rugby Dean Richards having drafted in 10 senior signings following last season’s second-bottom finish. “The reality is that there were gaps needing to be filled, and Dean has pulled in the right guys. They are all well respected within the group, and are making their voices heard.”
Much attention during the Falcons’ early-season exploits will centre around their new synthetic pitch, familiar territory for Saull having been part of the Saracens squad when they pioneered a similar surface two years ago. “There was more of a fuss at Saracens because we were the first Premiership club to do it, and there were all sorts of objections and unknowns,” he said.
“It will definitely give Newcastle a home advantage, but we need to find our style on it. We will naturally settle into things, and after two or three games the lads will realise what you can and can’t do on it. The ball stays in play a lot more, the bounce is slightly different and it enables offloading because the ball is not muddy even when it is wet.
“It all makes for a more exciting game to watch if you are of the same viewpoint as me, although the boys in the tight five might favour a few more scrums and a slower pace.
“For me I want us to be running around, so it suits me down to the ground.”