PLYMOUTH Argaum’s Nick Hancock says he is shocked to be a finalist in the Men’s Amateur Player of the Year category at the National Rugby Awards.
Hancock is one of six players from around the country in with a chance of scooping the prestigious prize at the awards ceremony at Twickenham on September 1.
The prop forward featured in 21 of Argaum’s 25 league matches in their debut season in the Cornwall/Devon League.
That might not seem particularly special, especially as he didn’t manage a try, but what is incredible is that Hancock is 49 years-old and only took up rugby five years earlier, joining Argaum when they were rock bottom of Devon Two.
“I had just turned 43 and didn’t do any fitness and had never played rugby. I was a couch potato,” admitted Hancock, who has helped Argaum to two successive promotions and Lockie Cup success.
“I was getting divorced, which was the life event which made me decide to go join a rugby team – not to play, but to maybe train and have a social life.
“I found Argaum and they were known then as a social club. I had no knowledge of local rugby, so I just googled it and Argaum came up as the team which at the time looked the least professional, although I have to be careful what I say now as I’m chairman,” laughed Hancock. “But this was six years ago!
“I eventually went up, but it did take me ages to actually do it, and I did a training session. After that I couldn’t walk for a week, but I did carry on going up, as I thought this is the only way I am going to get to know these lads.
“Before I knew it, I was thrown into a game. Then I had a second game and a third and it just continued all season.
“We were in Devon Two and didn’t win anything, but we managed to get to a cup final at Albion. I then met Graham Dawe and this was just my first year. I was thinking this is mad, I’m playing at a professional ground and an ex-England player is giving me a medal, even if it was a losers’ medal.”
“At the time Paul Symons was club captain and he welcomed me, as did everyone in the club.
“It did not matter how bad you were at training as the whole rugby community is just brilliant. Different people with different backgrounds and different skill levels can all play and train together.”
In his second season Hancock was made captain of Argaum and has been a regular member of the squad ever since, despite the club’s rise up the leagues.
He thought about retirement a couple of years ago but after the Bickleigh Down-based club were promoted he wanted a taste of the Cornwall/Devon League.
“I said two seasons ago that it would be my last year,” he said. “Last season I just wanted one game in the Cornwall/Devon League. I knew it was going to be tough. We had gone from 16 games to 26 league matches and everyone is bigger and stronger in that league. They are also much more organised.
“I didn’t think I would get a look in as I was turning 48. I thought maybe I’d get one or two games. I started off on the bench and then just gradually worked my way into the team and featured in 21 of the 25 league games Argaum had (one was not played) and I think the last six were full (80 minute) games.”
His performances and dedication – he has been travelling back from working in Milton Keynes to play – were recognised by the National Rugby Awards judging.
“It’s nice, but I’m very surprised to be actually shortlisted,” said Hancock. “Especially when you read the category as all the others are all try scorers and I’m not. I’m also an old bloke and there not.”
He may be an ‘old bloke’ but Hancock is not ready to call it a day yet after last season.
“I have a bit of knee injury but my attitude with the club growing is that if I can’t push for a first XV shirt then it makes the person who has that shirt a bit complacent,” he said. “If they know there are old farts behind them still wanting that shirt then it makes them work harder and helps the team.
“And if I can get back from Milton Keynes to make training on a Thursday then surely they can make it locally.”
A number of clubs in the region, including Argaum, are running ‘Return to Rugby’ programmes.
“We have just been appointed by the RFU to do the ‘Return to Rugby’ this season,” said Hancock. “If that had been in place six years ago it would have been perfect for me.”