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Old Centralians head coach Jack Preece has achieved so much in rugby

All Areas > Sport > Rugby Union

Author: Roger Jackson, Posted: Tuesday, 31st March 2020, 08:00

Jack Preece Jack Preece

Jack Preece is a seriously good rugby player.

He’s been a full-time player in the Championship for the majority of the past 12 years – he played for Hartpury in the season just finished – and he’s also played England Sevens, so he’s got a very impressive CV.

Rugby is a huge part of the Gloucester-born Preece’s life because as well as his playing commitments he is also head coach of Old Centralians, a club who have experienced a whole host of good times in both the league and cups over the past few years.

Old Cents is very much the club which Preece calls ‘home’ even though he has enjoyed great success during his time with Birmingham and Solihull, Rotherham, Birmingham Moseley and Coventry before linking up with Hartpury.

“I joined Old Cents in the under-8s,” said the 30-year-old, who has also played for England Counties.

“I stayed with them all the way through to the under-14s or under-15s. They didn’t have any older age group teams so I went to Gordon League where all my mates were.”

The former Beaufort School pupil spent two or three years with Gordon League before returning to Old Cents at the age of 17 where he was catapulted into the first team.

Predominantly an openside flanker although he has also played hooker, it was obvious from a young age that Preece was a very good player.

That was something that Old Cents stalwart and former National League player Dave Knight recognised too.

“He took me up to Birmingham and Solihull for pre-season and they really liked me,” said Preece.

That was when he was just 18 and he went on to have five seasons with the Midlands club and three with Rotherham before spending a season apiece with Birmingham Moseley, Coventry and Hartpury.

“I’ve been lucky enough to play rugby at a very decent level and I want to keep going for as long as the body will allow,” said Preece.

“The Championship is a good standard. It’s the second tier of rugby and it’s a full-time league.

“There’s always a big club that drops out of the Premiership and I’ve played against some good players – we played Newcastle four times this season!”

The diminutive Preece has won individual club honours aplenty over the years and also captained Birmingham and Solihull – he only left the club in 2012 to play sevens for England alongside the likes of Hartpury product Dan Norton and James Rodwell.

“I played hooker for England Sevens,” he said, adding with a chuckle, “I also played prop sometimes too. Fortunately the ball was in and out of the scrum in half a second!”

He played for England in the European Sevens Grand Prix Series which took him to Lyon and Moscow but it was in Moscow that he suffered his first serious setback on a rugby field because he sustained a serious ACL injury.

That ruled him out for the best part of the year and while it was a huge blow at the time, Preece, who had a contract with the RFU as a specialist sevens player, is able to look back positively on that time.

“It got me back playing 15-a-side rugby,” he said. “I signed for Rotherham and that was where I played the best rugby of my career, that was when I was at my peak and I really enjoyed it there.

“I liked playing sevens but 15-a-side is what I really enjoy.”

That positive attitude has gone a long way to helping him remain a top level rugby player for so long.

Never the biggest – he is 5ft 10in and weighs around 15-and-a-half stone – he has certainly made the most of everything he’s got in a sport where, more and more, big is beautiful.

“Of course it could have helped me if I was a bit bigger,” said Preece. “I wish it everyday but there is nothing I can do about it.

“It obviously limits me a bit in the set-pieces but my strength is my groundwork and if I’d been bigger I might not have been so effective on the floor winning the turnovers.”

You kind of think he would but while that’s something we will never know; what we do know is that he has been highly effective since taking over as head coach of Old Centralians some nine years ago.

They’ve won promotions, Combination cups and matches by the bucketload over the past decade and they enjoyed another outstanding season this time around before it was ended prematurely.

The club’s success means a lot to Preece because his family is a big part of Old Cents.

“Cousins, nephews, uncles,” he said. “They’re slowly dropping off – a couple have moved off to France and one has moved to London but there are still quite a few of us.”

Indeed there are because four of his cousins remain hugely important at the club.

“Tighthead Sam Preece is captain of the 1st XV and Harry Preece is a half-back for us,” said Preece.

“And George and Joe Preece play scrum-half and centre for the 2nd XV.”

Preece’s own rugby-playing commitments mean he obviously can’t be with Old Cents all the time.

The South West One East club train on Tuesdays and Wednesdays but on matchdays when he is otherwise engaged, Preece relies on a very good support group at the club.

That includes the likes of Rob Winchle, Martin Townsend and Pete Willetts and Preece added: “Everyone puts in an awful lot of hard work.”

Preece, who has also worked as assistant coach alongside Matt Teague at Gloucestershire, says he would like to go into coaching full-time when his playing career is over although he knows that it may not be easy.

“There are fewer opportunities for coaches,” he admitted. “You only need two or three per team.”

That may be so, but after all he has achieved, you wouldn’t bet against him remaining in the game full-time once he hangs up his boots.

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