FORMER Plymouth Albion player Steve Hodge has his eyes on earning more international honours after making his debut for the England deaf rugby team against Wales recently.
The veteran centre stopped playing rugby for nearly 15 years but returned to the sport a couple of seasons ago and has not looked back since.
After helping Tamar Saracens to promotion, Hodge found out through his former Albion team-mate Wayne Reed that because he had some hearing loss he might be eligible to play international deaf rugby. Reed himself was capped last season.
Hodge went for hearing tests (in order to qualify a player must have an average of 25db hearing loss bilaterally) and trials and, before he knew it, he was in the England squad and making his debut against Wales at the age of 38.
“The experience against Wales was just unbelievable,” said Hodge, who is now at Devonport Services.
“I had never really heard of deaf international rugby until I spoke to Wayne Reed and that just set the ball rolling.
“I had my official hearing test done and I have been training with them since September.
“I had several training sessions and worked my way down to a trial game at Kettering and then I was selected for a squad of 25, which was then dropped to 23 to face Wales.
“It is so strange to have this experience now after having such a long time out of rugby.”
Hodge came through the old Plymouth Albion junior set up, starting with them at eight years-old, and went on to play for their first team.
But after finding regular first team opportunities limited as Albion started to move up the leagues, Hodge turned his back on rugby in 2001.
“I just went through that age in my life where I was working, had just bought a house and all that kind of stuff and it was just one of those things that you either stick with or it goes on the back-burner,” said Hodge.
“It was not until two years ago that I had a phone call from an old mate of mine who I used to play junior rugby with, Danny Leeson. He was at Tamar Saracens and said ‘why don’t you just come down for a couple of sessions?’
“I was like ‘I’m too old now’, but as I was carrying a bit of weight I thought I’d just use it as a bit of fitness training.
“Basically, I went training and then started playing again.
“I then started playing quite a high level of vets’ rugby. I played for Devon Legends against Torbay Sharks at Albion and since then I’ve had a few invitations to play for other vets’ teams. I’ve even got an invite to the Amsterdam 10s.
“It all seems to be happening later on in life for me. You don’t normally expect to get these chances at 38.”
Hodge, who was among the scores for Devonport Services Vets on Wednesday night as they beat the Royal Marines 26-22 at the Rectory, admits he does ‘massively’ regret not continuing with his rugby when he was younger.
He felt he probably needed more guidance at the time. He said he just didn’t really want to play for anyone else other than Albion at that point in his life.
“Looking back now, I should have just taken a season out,” he said. “I had the chance to go to Launceston when I left Albion with a few other lads, but it just went on the back-burner.
“I went in for a little bit of body building, but eventually I came back to rugby and the last two years have been unforgettable.”
And Hodge is hoping there might be even more unforgettable moments still to come.
England have an away match against France coming up in March and then have a three-Test series against New Zealand and Hodge is hoping to be involved.
He has been training really hard and is determined to make up for lost time.
“I have really thrown myself into training,” said the powerful back.
“I have been training with Chey Bryce and Pete Bruce at Circuit Fit, doing a lot of strength and conditioning stuff, but everything is very rugby orientated.
“I have also been working with Debbie Spear from Ultimate Therapies for the last six months and she deserves a big thanks for keeping me injury free.”