Rob Vickers admits his conversion to prop may only be a temporary one, but Newcastle Falcons’ farming front-rower does not mind either way.
Spending the best part of a decade at hooker, where he has earned England Saxons recognition, the Yorkshireman has packed down at loose-head this season as director of rugby Dean Richards experiments with his forwards.
Partly down to injuries to Grant Shiells and Franck Montanella, the move has coincided with a change in scrum laws which seems to be favouring technical ability over out-and-out size.
That means props in the Vickers mould may become the norm, the player himself stating: “It is early days, and it is still in its infancy. It may end in that infancy, but we won’t know if we don’t try.
“I had a bench appearance or two at prop and have now had a couple of starts there, but there is a long way to go.”
Taking well to the transition, he added: “I don’t think the dark arts of the front-row exist in the way they once did, but I still have a huge amount to learn.
“That is what I am doing and, in our front-row coach Micky Ward, I have an outstanding person directing me. The other props at the club have been fantastic in helping out, and guys like Franck have taken a lot of time to show me what they know.
“It is something I enjoy doing, and a new challenge to go at.”
Handed his first start in the No 1 shirt at Worcester two and a half weeks ago, Vickers found himself squaring up against former Falcons team-mate and experienced Scottish international Euan Murray.
More than holding his own in the 16-11 triumph, he said: “When I saw I was making my first start against Euan, I actually thought it was brilliant.
“Euan, to me, is one of the best scrummaging tight-heads in world rugby, so to make my first start there against him meant there was nowhere to hide. You know he is going to be relentless, and if you go up against someone you perceive in a different way then I think you are going to get a false picture of where you are at that time.”
Explaining the differences between his two positions, he added: “The way the Falcons play means the hooker has different defensive responsibilities on the short-side, whereas at loose-head you are a bit freer to go around.
“In attack the hooker tends to be a little more prominent as a ball-carrier around the field, but being a mobile prop allows me to combine the two and release a little of the work-load from the hooker at times. I am still covering both positions, so the conditioning side of things has not changed a huge amount.
“I am aware I need to perhaps keep a little bit more weight on me than I would if I was focusing solely on hooker, because the primary role of a prop is obviously to scrummage.
“But otherwise, the training is the same.”
Aware that the ‘versatile’ tag has consigned many a player to the subs’ bench down the years, Vickers said: “Yeah, that is one thing you do think about.
“But I love my job, and I love playing rugby.
“At the moment Franck is struggling a little bit with injury, and there is a position to be filled. It gives me an opportunity to learn some more, and I am well aware it may be the case that the coaches come to me and say they are moving me back tohooker.
“That wouldn’t be a problem, but the way things are at the moment gives flexibility to both myself and the club.”
Keeping his hands full away from rugby by helping on his wife’s family farm just outside Durham, he said: “The farm is going great, and I love it.
“All the cattle are in, everything is drilled up and we are looking good.
“We are well on top of the job, which is just as well because my wife is due to give birth in five weeks!”