BIG INTERVIEW: Viney aims to roll back the years

Oliver Viney at home with his sons Henry and George
Oliver Viney at home with his sons Henry and George
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Judging by the attacking ethos of Preston Grasshoppers’ newly-appointed forwards coach, fans can expect plenty of entertainment next season.

Prolific try scorer Oliver Viney has returned to the club – 13 years since he first walked through the doors at Lightfoot Green as a fresh-faced teenager.

A stylish and speedy winger, Viney went on to become a modern-day Hoppers legend.

He scored 78 tries in just 120 or so appearances, which is still a club record at National League standard.

But after a spell in Australia and a stint playing for local rivals Fylde, the ex-Sale Sharks academy star is back at Hoppers in a player-coach capacity.

Now aged 31, Viney’s wealth of playing experience should prove to be hugely beneficial in helping head coach Garth Dew further develop his young team.

But perhaps more importantly, the former Lancaster Royal Grammar School pupil’s try-scoring expertise should come in handy next term as Hoppers look to improve upon this season, which very nearly ended in relegation from National League Two North.

Affable and down-to-earth, Viney appears almost embarrassed about his name being at the top of the club’s try-scoring list.

But he is aiming to extend the record further still next season when he pulls on the famous striped shirt once more.

“I am not too sure what the numbers are or where exactly I am on the list in terms of points scored,” said Viney, who lives in St Michael’s, near Garstang.

“But I think in the modern era or since National League rugby was brought in, I am the club’s leading try scorer.

“Obviously that is something I am very proud of.

“Scoring tries is something I like to do. Hopefully, I can score a few more next season.

“I like to see myself as a bit of a flair player and being quite adventurous on the pitch, so that is what I can hopefully bring to the team.

“Probably ‘unconventional’ is not the right word, but I just like to enjoy myself when I play.

“I like to run the ball as much as I can and not kick it.

“I am not a very physical or aggressive player. I have always played on the wing or at full-back and relied on my speed.

“I suppose the word ‘elusiveness’ might be a good word to describe my main strength on the pitch.

“But it’s great to be back at Hoppers.

“I still like to think of myself as more of a player than a coach, but my body might tell me something different next season.

“But I guess coming back takes my senior playing career full circle. It’s a chance to come back and finish my career where it all started for me all those years ago.”

Viney has spent the past year out of the game as he concentrated on family and business commitments.

A father of two young boys – Henry (3) and one-year-old George – Viney has also been focused on the family-run firm Atlantic Geomatics, which is based in Penrith.

However, with his batteries fully recharged, Viney cannot wait to pull his boots on once more next season.

“I am just ready now to go back,” he added. “Hopefully, I can share some of my knowledge with the younger guys down at Garth and Alan Holmes with the really good squad that they have got down there.

“I did manage to go down to the club this season and do a bit of coaching.

“It is clear that they have got a really good and exciting young squad.

“Some of the guys they have got are really talented players. If you look at their record this season – although they struggled a bit and finished near the bottom – they accumulated 10 losing bonus points.

“So there were 10 games there where they lost by within seven points.

“With a bit more experience and a bit more nous, they could have won five or six of those games and be right in the mix in the top half of the table.

“But as I say, I am really looking forward to next season.

“I think Garth’s vision for the team is really exciting.

“And I’m really looking forward to getting the boots back on.

“I’m hoping I’ve still got something to offer playing-wise.

“I’m only 31 and I’m hoping – fitness permitting – that I’ve still got two or three good years left in me.

“And, of course, I’ve really enjoyed the bit of coaching I have done and I’m looking to develop that further.” A former England schoolboy international, Viney joined Hoppers after leaving sixth form.

After a couple of try-laden seasons at Lightfoot Green, Sale Sharks swooped for him and he moved to the Premiership club.

Things did not quite work out and after a year and a half playing in their academy, Viney joined Orrell in the Championship.

He returned to Hoppers shortly after and his record-breaking exploits resumed.

“I had never really played much club rugby until I left Lancaster Royal Grammar School,” Viney said.

“It was only after I had begun university and moved to St Michael’s that I wanted to find a local club where I could play.

“I rung up Hoppers and they were very welcoming from day one.

“I had played a lot of rugby at school and represented England Under-18s schoolboys.

“But after I left school, I took about six months out of the game. I wouldn’t say I was sick of rugby, it was just that I had played a lot and I decided to take a break.

“But after about six months, I joined Hoppers and spent half-a-season playing for the colts.

“Then the season after that is when I started playing for the first team.”

It was around this time that Viney began to earn representative honours at county level.

He was part of the Lancashire team which defeated Gloucester 24-18 in the final of the County Championship at Twickenham in 2003.

It was the first time the Red Rose men had won the prestigious trophy in a decade.

“Playing at Twickenham was fantastic,” Viney said.

“I remember the first time I played there in 2003 for Lancashire was really special.

“We had a brilliant team and it was such a fantastic experience for a 19-year-old lad.

“I always remember being on the team bus driving to the stadium not really thinking too much about it.

“In your head, you’re thinking it’s just another game of rugby, but then the stadium comes into view and it’s only then that it dawns on you and you think, ‘Wow, this is pretty special’.

“Luckily, we got drawn in the home changing room so that was great – being in England’s changing room.

“I can tell you, it was a bit different to some of the changing rooms I had been used to!

“Each player had their own individual cast-iron baths and cubicles and there were all these separate rooms attached to the changing rooms.

“There was a physio room and a room which contained a track so you could warm-up before the game.

“We won the game as well. It was the first time Lancashire had won the County Championship in a long time.

“But since then under Mark Nelson, Lancashire have won it something like seven or eight times and are the current champions.

“It was just great for me to be part of that side.”

As one of the stand-out performers for Lancashire, Viney won a call-up for the England Inter-counties representative side.

“I played for England at junior level, but I also got selected for the England Inter-counties team, which was obviously a great honour,” he said.

“Any time you pull on the England jersey is a proud moment.

“I went on tours to France and Russia, which were great experiences.”

Perhaps one of Viney’s biggest accomplishments in the game was when he added his name to the list of illustrious players who have represented the Barbarians.

Some of the notable players to play for the ‘Baa-Baas’ over the years include England greats Bill Beaumont, Jeremy Guscott and Jason Leonard, as well international stars such as David Campese, Zinzan Brooke and Michael Lynagh.

“I remember I was supposed to play in the Mobbs Memorial match for the Babas, but I picked up a hamstring strain and so, unfortunately, I was not available,” Viney recalls.

“But I then got asked to play in a match against the Bedford Blues.

“Again, playing for the Barbarians is just a fantastic experience and something I will always remember.

“It’s amazing to be part of an exclusive club to some extent and there is so much history and tradition attached to the Barbarians.

“So many great and exciting players have represented them over the years.

“The great thing was we won the game and I came off the bench to score a try.”

In 2008, Viney was offered the opportunity to further his rugby horizons in Australia.

He spent four years Down Under playing for Wanneroo Rugby Club and went on to captain the Western Australia state side.

“The game is actually very different Down Under,” Viney said.

“It was still a very physical game, but we played a more open game. But it was brilliant to be able to go out to Australia.

“That is what I love about the game of rugby, it gives you the chance to travel and experience different cultures.

“You can turn up ina place like Australia and straight away you’ve got 15 mates that you can go out and have a beer with.”

Having enjoyed such a great career, Viney has played with and against a number of great players, but in his opinion, who was the best?

“It is difficult to pick out the best because there are so many,” he said. “But at school I played with Magnus Lund, who went on to play for England. He was a great back row player and currently plays for Sale. He probably could and should have played for England more times than he did.

“I guess I am biased but he was and is a great player.

“With Lancashire, I played alongside Richard Wigglesworth, who is a fantastic player.

“He has played for England a number of times and has obviously gone on to do really well for himself.

“When I went to play out in Australia, I played against Matt Hodgson, James O’Connor and David Pocock, who are all Australian internationals.

“That was quite challenging because obviously they are all pretty damned good players.

“I suppose they are the names which stand out.”

Despite everything that he has achieved in rugby, does Viney believe he made the most of his talent?

“I do certainly think I could have played at higher level, but I guess it’s one of those things,” he said.

“In hindsight, there were opportunities I maybe had which I did not take.

“But then again, I probably would not have had the four years living and playing in Australia if I had not taken the path that I chose at the time. So there are no regrets.”