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  • 8 April 2009

Itís strictly rugby as Austin Healey takes on Sussex team

Austin Healey of ITV4s The Big Tackle and the University of Sussex Mens Rugby Club

Austin Healey of ITV4's 'The Big Tackle' and the University of Sussex Men's Rugby Club

Former England rugby international Austin Healey has been putting members of the University of Sussex Men's Rugby Club through their paces for a new television show.

Austin, capped more than 50 times for England, has also made a name for himself as a contestant on TV show Strictly Come Dancing, but he was looking to improve the team's defensive skills and passing play rather than their passa doble for ITV4's The Big Tackle.

The six-part series shows Austin working with five teams to improve their game. The Sussex team was chosen because it had enjoyed promotion previously, but was struggling to adapt to life in the first division of the South Eastern Conference League after losing a longstanding coach.

Club captain and scrum half Ben Coleman, a third-year law student, said before filming: "The Sussex team was promoted to the top league last season, but we have been struggling to find form. We have great facilities and the structure of the club is there, but our heads had gone down after a bad start."

The team had impressed, however, with their commitment and character - but would they measure up for Austin Healey?

During the hour-long programme, to be broadcast on 12 and 15 April, Austin watches the team play, leads training sessions and takes the squad out for a day of team-building exercises. The team is also filmed treating Austin to a night out in Brighton. Viewers will be introduced to team characters such as Josh "Man Bear Pig" Illingworth, Dean "Ratty" Graham, Toothless Tom and Johnny Mac The Country Gent.

Highlights of the week spent filming with Healey included a military-style yomp across the Sussex Downs. Ben says: "We were put through our paces by a former special operations soldier. We did a huge amount of running and some pretty tough exercise circuits. After 12 hours of being run around the Downs we were absolutely exhausted but what was good was that the team's camaraderie and unity remained resolute."

The final programme in the six-part series, to be screened in early summer, will see the team facing the University of Reading team at the Sussex campus. Austin will be watching the game to see how much the boys have improved.

Austin Healey, speaking after the Sussex team's match against Reading, said: "The Sussex team is a truly great bunch of lads who love their rugby and have made really close friendships through the game. In terms of their rugby ability I've met more talented, but few more committed. They were all a real pleasure to meet - even Ratty! They would all be an asset to any team."

Ben added: "The two training sessions with Austin went well. There was a fair amount of banter between Austin and the team and quite a lot of laughing throughout. On a couple of occasions Austin ran circles around a few of our players. It was perhaps an unreasonable expectation that Austin would completely turn our fortunes around for the season. However, the experience has certainly shown the players' determination and commitment towards one another."

Notes for editors

The Big Tackle with Austin Healey begins 15 March 2009 at 7.30pm, with episodes following on Sundays after the Guinness Premiership highlights programme on ITV4, repeated on ITV1 on Wednesdays. The University of Sussex episode will be broadcast on ITV4 on Sunday 12 April after the Guinness Premiership coverage, and on ITV1 on Wednesday 15 April (check ITV_GUIDE for full details. The show is sponsored by the official England rugby team sponsor, 02.


The University of Sussex Men’s Rugby Club runs two teams that compete in the British University Sports Association (BUSA) leagues. Both teams compete on Wednesday afternoons against other university sides from around the South-East. Last season, the first XV won their league and secured promotion, while the second team came fourth in a competitive league. The first team also reached the semi-final of the National BUSA Vase Competition and narrowly missed out on a place in the final.


The club also takes part in the Sussex RFU Shield knockout competition, having won the Plate competition in 2007. for more information, email:


University of Sussex Press office contacts: Maggie Clune, Jacqui Bealing and Danïelle Treanor. Tel: 01273 678 888 or email


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