RIL’s Tom Home sat down and chatted with Sam Baker from Championship new boys, Ampthill RUFC. From chicken fajitas to winning the Champions League with Aston Villa to the launch of an exciting new fitness e-book, Sam discusses how he has been coping with lockdown and his thoughts on Ampthill’s maiden season in professional rugby.

Rugby Inside Line – First and foremost, how has lockdown affected your diet and training?

Sam Baker – My training has changed a fair bit to be honest, during the season I usually do weights every day and then just do my fitness at the club. Obviously now the gyms are shut, and the club is shut that is more difficult. I have got a couple of dumbbells at home, but I have mostly been doing bodyweight exercises and some CrossFit stuff, which is actually pretty decent for getting the heart rate up and experiencing some resistance in the muscles. In terms of my diet, the foods are pretty similar, but I just eat slightly less of it as I am obviously not as active as when we’re in season.

RIL – Have you found that not following the professionalised routines of a Championship club has affected you?

SB – First and foremost, I miss the boys and just having the craic with them; It’s strange seeing them every day and then not at all for 10 weeks. In terms of routine though, it’s weird just having nothing really to train for or end goal in sight as no-one knows what’s happening. I think it’s easy to keep yourself fairly fit by doing your 5kms and home workouts but being fit enough to play a championship game is completely different. I don’t really worry too much about my own fitness though as I know my cardio comes back pretty quickly, I am just trying to keep the weight on really.

RIL – Have you undertaken any activities/hobbies that you didn’t previously find yourself doing before lockdown?

SB – Walking! I’ve never walked so far in my life, but it is good for the mind to just get out of the apartment for a bit or I’d be losing my head big time. I am also a personal trainer and have just set up my online business and wrote a fitness E-book for junior rugby players, which has been doing really well, so that’s kept me busy too.

RIL – When you’re not doing some form of training, how do you keep yourself physically and mentally active?

SB – I have spent most of the time working on my website and coaching some of my clients, which has been great and has kept me pretty busy, however, I have just also won the Champions League with Aston Villa on football manager, which I’m pretty happy with!

RIL – What is the best thing about having a break from rugby?

SB – I think just mentally it can get quite exhausting during the season, especially during the middle months. It’s pretty full on all the time and it’s a really tough league, so it’s nice to switch off a bit without worrying if you’re going to get hammered in analysis on Monday!

RIL – What meal have you mastered during lockdown?

SB – Chicken fajitas is my go-to at the moment. Simple but effective!

RIL – What is your pet peeve in lockdown and why?

SB – Those Tesco workers with the stay 2 meters away signs who stand right in the middle of the aisle and make it impossible to stay 2 meters away from anyone!

RIL – How does it feel knowing that you have survived your first season in the Championship and in less than six months, you could be playing the European Champions?

SB – Obviously, it’s bittersweet with the season ending how it did, but personally I was pretty pleased with my first season in the Championship. I was up there near the top end of the try charts and would have liked to of got a full season under my belt to see where I ended up, but it wasn’t meant to be. In terms of playing Saracens, of course that will be a tough one and probably a long day at the office, but you always want to test yourself against the best, so hopefully some internationals will be playing. – it will be very interesting, and I am sure they will love the walk through the woods too.

RIL – Some of the Championship clubs have great facilities and wealthy financial backing. Do you think Ampthill could remain in the Championship long enough to grow like that?

SB – I’d like to think so. I know this season got cut short, but we were getting some big results and we were getting better all the time, plus we have got some really talented players at Ampthill, who have shown, given the platform this year, how good they are. In terms of growth, the club already has plans in place to build a new stadium in the area and the Director of Rugby and the Chairman are very savvy guys. Mark Lavery has been planning and working towards us being a Championship club for about 10 years, so I am sure they are making every decision with that in mind, so I don’t think we will have a problem.

RIL – Player wages in top leagues have been the subject of huge debate. Do you worry about the apparent lack of debate for the pyramid below the Premiership and grassroots clubs?

SB – It’s a really tough one I think, if the salaries are becoming a big issue in the Premiership, that’s going to filter down to the Championship anyway, but rugby in England just seems to be a bit farcical at the moment. The majority of Premiership clubs are making losses every year through wages. Then there’s the fact the RFU have just pulled the rug from under the feet of all the Championship clubs with the funding cuts halfway through a season. It’s no surprise to me the debate about wages is rife, and I think it’s a big issue at the moment, especially with the players being asked to take cuts that may potentially be permanent due to COVID-19. It’s going to be a difficult time for rugby and the players financially in the next season or so I think.

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