Tom Fidler finds it hard to put into words just how much playing for Poland means to him and the prop cannot wait to play in this year’s men’s Rugby Europe Championship.
Poland’s first year in the showpiece event saw them finish eighth in 2023, but that really does not tell the full story because they brought so much to the tournament and secured a historic win in Gdynia over Belgium.
Their 2024 campaign starts in the same city on Sunday against Romania (KO 6.15 pm local) and Fidler, the 37-year-old front-rower, said: “We are all looking forward to the Championship.
“Last year was our first year in the Championship and we were all on a learning curve. Now the squad is shaping up well for the challenges that are to come in year two.
“We know what is required at this level now and we have tweaked things that we do in training and have finely tuned things as we know more of what to expect from our opponents and from a steady run of games.
“We have a really good coaching set up led by Chris Hitt and Morgan Stoddart backed up by some excellent strength and conditioning coaches and it is all coming together well.
“We have a few new players coming in and the squad is looking sharp, so hopefully we can get the results and the rewards back from what we put into this year’s Championship because in some of the games last year I felt we were a bit unlucky and, in general, were quite frustrated to finish where we did.
“What last year did go to show that any mistakes at this level are often punished, so we took a lot of learnings from that and also took a number of positives from the way we played.
“Our hopes and aims are to stay at this level. Last year we were dipping our toe in, but now I feel that we have the set up and the experience to challenge teams and prove how good we can be.”
Fidler grew up in England and played rugby for England Colleges, England Counties and England Universities and such like back in the day, but he never thought he’d get a chance at full international level as the years went by.
However, he has a Polish grandfather and a few years back he was brought into the Poland national team environment and has never looked back.
“This is my fifth year playing for the national team and wow they have been five amazing years,” Fidler stated.
“I am forever grateful that I got the chance to play for Poland in my 30s and it means so much to me. I want to make my family proud and I want to really help Polish rugby get better and better.
“Ahead of my first game a few years ago myself and a few other new caps had to learn the national anthem and then sing it in front of the whole squad which was quite an experience!
“All jokes aside, when I got to sing the anthem before a match for the first time on the pitch I was emotional and every time I pull on the jersey I give 100 percent for the cause.
“Just thinking about playing for Poland makes me emotional because not only has it been a great playing experience, it has also helped me take my coaching to the next level and last year I was made head coach of Ogniwo Sopot one of the top clubs in the country.
“Off the pitch, I met my partner over here and we now have a beautiful three-year-old daughter, so Poland rugby has given me everything, really it has given me a new lease of life if I am completely honest.
“I was perhaps going to step down from playing last year, but after seeing how much being in the Championship meant to everyone involved and to the supporters and the country, I really wanted another crack at it and I feel I owe it to myself and to the team to give it one more go.
“I feel like I have more to give and am looking forward to this Championship campaign a lot.”
On March 17, the Championship Finals will be held at the home of Stade Français at the Stade Jean Bouin in Paris.
All eight teams will be involved in a real festival of rugby and Fidler added: “We are really excited for the finals day in France when it comes around.
“That’ll be a great advert for the Championship and will hopefully make the whole rugby community take note and realise just how good the standard is at this level.”
Where to Watch: More details to be announced regarding regional broadcasters, in addition to RugbyEurope.TV
By Gary Heatly