Gloucester Rugby: Tom Savage is happy to set an example
Tom Savage's team-mates think he is a natural leader.
The Gloucester flanker trusts in hard work, not big talk, when it comes to setting an example.
STAND in front of your peers for the first time as their leader – and captivate them, or never take charge ever again.
Tom Savage scanned the Kingsholm changing room, mostly locking eyes with men more experienced.
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Thrust into the captaincy at the last second, the 23-year-old had to deliver the pre-match battle cry.
He looked around that room, and realised he need say nothing.
The loose-forward saw his team-mates staring back, offering their full conviction.
Some captains are orators, some tub-thumpers, others are thinkers or even tinkers – and then there are those who, ever so quietly, develop into the best of all.
The best blindside flankers are neither seen nor heard, cloaking their craft in shadow.
Savage is fast grasping that mettle, and also quickly appreciating that setting the example often sets the perfect tone.
At times Gloucester lacked for leadership in their edgy 29-23 victory over Worcester, unsurprising given skipper Mike Tindall's last-minute withdrawal with a hip injury.
Stand-in Savage proved himself a capable deputy through both example, and telling his players not to panic at the last.
Gloucester boss Nigel Davies believes Savage is in the running to replace Jim Hamilton as club captain at Kingsholm next season.
Seven years ago Savage had only just started playing rugby full-stop.
He has only captained one previous side – Hartpury RFC – but he loves a challenge, and admitted he would relish the Cherry and Whites responsibility if it comes his way.
He said: "I didn't have much chance to think about it, Tins pulled out in the warm-up and he just asked if I was okay to skipper the side, and I said, 'Yes, of course.'
"It's a responsibility I'd like to have on my shoulders, so it went all right and the boys really bought into what I was saying, and they stuck at it for the full 80.
"It hasn't been talked about before, it was a little bit of a surprise, there wasn't any talk of it in the week, because obviously Mike was meant to play.
"Being a surprise like that, it was almost better for any nerves or anything like that, I just had to go straight into it.
"You've just got to concentrate. With the responsibility you have on the team, you've got to make sure your performance is right up there where it needs to be, week in, week out.
"You've got to speak to the boys, and communicate with the referee as well.
"Hopefully leading by example week on week is something I try to do anyway.
"Any time that coaches are praising you that's a massive boost to your confidence to know they trust you within the team, so that's a positive on that front.
"Hartpury was the first time I had captained the side, I really enjoyed the experience and we had a really good season. I really like that responsibility."
Rugby's box-office captains have tended towards the totemic, gargantuans who growl as much at referees as team-mates.
Men like Martin Johnson, John Eales – and now Richie McCaw – furrow brows towards officials, and decisions just seem to fall their way.
Influence is everything, but Savage said all that is changing, and the new breed of captain must adapt.
As and when he takes the armband again, he will not be providing bespoke commentary for the man with the whistle.
He said: "These days you see referees more and more wanting to take decisions into their own hands, and who can blame them?
"They want to be able to work with captains and communicate well, they don't want to be shouted at every two minutes about decisions they are making or things that are going on.
"So I think the very first step is always to respect what the referee is saying, and the job he is doing, and then just work with them throughout the game.
"You don't want to be constantly in their ear every two minutes – if anything that has a negative effect on the game.
"Constant criticism would stop anyone listening, no one would want that, it's not respectful.
"If you want referees to appreciate your point of view, you've got to first respect theirs.
"Hopefully good communication between captain and referee helps the game flow and helps your side too."
Politics still dogs age-group representative squad selection, at least at city and county level.
Savage fell foul of a flawed system at Under-18 level.
Devastated at the time, he now believes it was his making.
As a teenager he wrestled big brutes in men's rugby with Bishop's Castle and then Shrewsbury RFC.
He thinks early exposure to that full-bloodied physicality has helped him throw his weight around in the Premiership.
He added: "At the time you think missing out on representative stuff is everything. Later I realised it wasn't much of a deal in the grand scheme.
"Missing out on all that actually helped. I was thrown straight in at the deep end of senior rugby, battling big old lumps.
"I've just quietly sneaked through the ranks."