Sunday, 23 June 2013

Leicester's Lions #3: Paul Dodge

Leicester's Lions No.3: Paul Dodge
Paul Dodge
Paul Dodge has a reasonable claim to be the greatest ever Tiger.  The youngest recorded player to start for the club, until George Ford in 2009, he was still only 17 when he received his club tie for 20 games, only 20 on his 100th appearance and only 27 when he racked up the iconic 300th appearance for the club.  His 437 games for the First XV put him 5th on the all time appearance list. 

Dodge appeared in 6 Cup finals, winning 3 and captaining in the 1989 final against Bath, and was the club captain as they won the inaugural Courage League in the 1987/88.  After 17 seasons in the first team Dodge retired and took over the newly formed Under 21s side before moving upwards to coach the first team backs to the ’93 Cup final victory over Quins and then the club's 2nd League title in 1995.  With the arrival of professionalism Dodge, a bookbinder by trade, left first team duties to others and returned to coaching in the clubs youth structures.  This summer it was announced he will be Club President, taking over from Mike Harrison.

Dodge was part of the Tigers very first Youth XV and was the first England and then first British international of many to come.  He won 32 caps for England captaining them in the 1985 5 Nations Championship and that summer’s tour to New Zealand.  It was to be his final international appearance as Dodge retired from England at the age of 27 already the most capped centre for his country. 

Dodge was a member of the 1980 England grandslam side, their first for 23 years; initially Richmond’s Nick Preston was preferred but Dodge was drafted in alongside club-mates Clive Woodward, Dusty Hare and Peter Wheeler for the third match against Wales.  Hare slotted the injury time winning penalty after a dropped scrum.  Yes they did used to happen despite what the “golden age” old farts say!  Dodge retained his place for the final match against Scotland, using his raking left boot to set up one of the tries. 

Later that year Dodge scored the only try in the John Player Cup Semi Final victory over Harlequins before Tigers returned to Twickenham to defeat London Irish for the 2nd of their three successive Cup Final victories.

This form meant Dodge was unlucky to miss out on the initial selection for the British Lions squad to tour South Africa; however when Welsh centre David Richards was injured Dodge became one of 8 replacements called to the tour and joined Woodward and Wheeler in South Africa.   

He made his Lions debut against the Junior Springboks on Wednesday 18th of June as he played in a backline containing Tony Ward, Andy Irvine and Elgan Rees; his opposite number was Danie Gerber and Dodge grabbed a try in an impressive win for the tourists.  That catapulted Dodge into the Saturday side for the remainder of the tour as he featured against North-East Transvaal, Western Province and in the final two test matches against the Springboks. 

Tigers coach Chalkie White raided his savings to fly out to Port Elizabeth for the third match where Dodge joined Wheeler and Woodward; of having three players in the Test side White said at the time “If I live for another 100 years this will not happen again”, little did he know Tigers would match that number in 1993 and 2001, better it by 1 in 1997 and smash it in 2005 when 7 Tigers would line up against Argentina in the first Test. 

The Lions lost that third test after Naas Botha’s boot did for them but two weeks later they triumphed outscoring the Boks 3 tries to 1 at Loftus Versfeld and avoiding the whitewash.  Dodge partnered legendry Llanelli centre Ray Gravell in both tests with regular Leicester partner Clive Woodward forced to the wing in the 3rd test and onto the bench in the 4th. 

For England Dodge played as they beat Australia in 1982’s famous “Erica Roe” match, slotting the conversion of the match winning try, and was one of 6 Tigers for England was they beat the All Blacks in 1983, the others were Dusty Hare, Clive Woodward, Les Cusworth, Nick Youngs and Peter Wheeler.

Only three weeks later though Dodge was to suffer a broken leg away to Blackheath missing the rest of the season.  He bounced back to tour South Africa again, this time in 1984 with England but failed to feature in a test match, perhaps rushed back as he had only played twice for Leicester since the leg brake.  Come the 1985 5 Nations however he was fully restored and was named England’s 100th captain as they faced Romania in January of that year.  He captained England 7 times and was undefeated at Twickenham though winless away from home.

Dodge won every honour available to him and was the prototype modern back.  At 6’1” and 90 kgs his size and strength means he wouldn’t be out of place in the modern game and he combined that with a fantastic rugby brain and a howitzer left boot which he used both tactically and for goal.  If he hadn’t played alongside Dusty Hare and Les Cusworth his goal kicking would have been used far more often.  

Leicester's Lions #1: George Beamish 
Leicester's Lions #2: Neil Back 

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