Paul Stridgeon was born in Wigan and represented England at the Commonwealth Games – but he wants to see the Red Rose wilt next Saturday.
As Wales’ national physical performance manager, former freestyle wrestler Stridgeon plays a critical role among head coach Warren Gatland’s support team.
He has previously worked with England – a six-year stint – the British & Irish Lions, Toulon and Wasps, and is rated among the best operators in his field.
And if Wales stay on course for a Six Nations Grand Slam by beating title favourites England in Cardiff next weekend, then Stridgeon will have played a key part.
“People always ask me and Shaun (Edwards, Wales assistant coach) that question – ‘what’s it like when you play England? Who do you want to win?'” Stridgeon said.
REPORTER: Neil, how did it feel to win that famous game in Wembley in '99?— Welsh Rugby Union 🏉 (@WelshRugbyUnion) 14 February 2019
KATRINA AND THE WAVES: We'll answer that one... pic.twitter.com/yn18jiF1NE
“It is like, ‘are you having a laugh?’ We work for Wales. We want to win more than the Welsh boys, if that’s possible.
“On the coach on the way back (after beating England in the 2015 World Cup) I am there with my top off, and my suit trousers on, dancing.
“Me and Shaun were happier than anyone to have beaten England – because it’s your old team.”
Stridgeon and Edwards went to the same school, and they will be instrumental figures for Wales through the Six Nations, into summer preparations and then the World Cup in Japan.
“This is the best squad I’ve worked with, definitely,” Stridgeon added. “It’s the best job I’ve had.
“Wasps was a great job because we were successful and won a trophy every year, but for me working with Wales is not like being at work.
“I am telling boys to run around and do things, and they do it all. They smile and shake your hand at the end and we have a bit of banter as well.
“There are no egos in the squad whatsoever, and they are all hard-working. You tell them what they have to do, and they do it to the letter.”
Driving fitness levels is Stridgeon’s forte, and he has no doubt which way the Wales players are heading in that department.
“You can’t be the best if you are not the fittest,” he said. “The coaches allow us a lot of time to do what we want and need to do.
“Warren is not all about rugby. He is the sort of coach who if the boys are tired, he will cancel a rugby session and let us do some weights with them. That’s how much emphasis he puts and places on strength and conditioning performance.
“When you’ve got the coaches and not only the fitness staff banging the fitness drum, it’s great. They are looking at the GPS data and the training times, and that’s perfect for us.
“All we have to do is rev the boys up, push them hard, and away they go. If you combine that with the willingness of the boys to work hard, then it’s just great.”
Asked if Wales’ current squad is the fittest he has worked with, Stridgeon added: “I think it will be by the time we come to the World Cup. It definitely has the potential to be that.
“We just need time to be together. There are things we are not 100 per cent in control of because the players go back to their regions and the English clubs.
“But when we get a big amount of time together and work hard, I feel we will be in great shape by the time the World Cup starts.”
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