Caldwell causing a splash at Bath
Former Ulster and current Bath second row Ryan Caldwell sits down to a large pot of green tea in his favourite local coffee shop.
He is on first name terms with the manager and nodding terms with many of the customers.
‘Jinka Jinka’ has become an extended living room for Caldwell and his young family who have settled into life in the beautiful spa city seamlessly in a few short months.
“Since coming here everything has gone perfectly, I pinch myself. I didn’t think it would go as well as it has done,” he said.
“I’m able to look back on times in the past when it was hard in my rugby career, and now I can really appreciate just how good it is.”
On a beautiful autumnal day in Bath, Caldwell’s freshly scratched face from the weekend’s battle against Harlequins creates an interesting contrast with a Jane Austen tour group being led by a rather portly Mr D’Arcy.
He is a long way from Belfast in body and mind, and is pleased he made the move when he did.
“My last year at Ulster was tough for a variety of reasons, I have a lot of respect for Brian McLaughlin, but it just didn’t work out,” he said.
“A change was needed for me and I wanted to experience something different.
“Bath is a big team with a great heritage and it’s a beautiful city, the coaches have backed me from the start and I’m playing with a confidence I didn’t have at the end with Ulster.”
After receiving the School’s Cup from Prince Andrew eight years ago with RBAI under McLaughlin, Caldwell knew he was going to be a professional rugby player.
He admits he didn’t give other careers much thought.
He smiles at the memory. “I had a French teacher at school who despairing at my lack of work said did I really think I was going to play rugby for a living, it’s funny the way it all works out.”
Straight after leaving school Caldwell became part of the Ulster set-up graduating from the Academy to the senior squad rapidly.
He has fond memories of his time at Ulster, and keeps in regular contact with former team mates, however, he has barely been back to Belfast since he left.
He has been in Bath nearly half a year and has only returned home to get a tattoo finished.
His family in Belfast will travel to Somerset for Christmas.
He is married with three young children and admits that life has completely changed for him.
His weekends are spent taking the family to safari parks and his nights are spend reading bedtime stories. In truth, he couldn’t be happier.
“Life changes, I had to mature with new responsibilities,” he said. “Bath has been brilliant for my family. Normally back home I would rely a bit on my parents to look after the kids, but here we just bring them everywhere.
“In this coffee shop a lot of the players would meet for a chat and we’ll have all of our kids here running around playing with each other, it’s a great atmosphere for any family to be around.”
On the field, Caldwell has settled in quickly. His combative style of play has earned him plaudits from enthusiastic fans who fill the elegant Georgian streets on match days.
He is starting most games, contrasting favourably with his last days kicking the bench in Belfast.
“I feel I’m playing better than I was at Ulster for a few different reasons. I had a great pre-season, and just carried on,” he said.
“Rugby is such a psychological game, once you have confidence, it’s incredible what that can do for you.
“I have this burning passion to play well every Saturday and I hope I’m doing that here.
“But I am still enjoying every part of it and I look back at guys I came up with underage at Ulster and know how lucky I am to be doing this job for a living.”
At the moment, Caldwell’s professional short term goals lie with Bath, but he is unable to abandon his dreams of playing for Ireland and adding to his two caps.
He will play Leinster in the European Cup in December and believes this is the perfect shop window.
“If I’m picked the Leinster game would be a huge opportunity to show what I can do. The atmosphere will be even more electric than usual, it’s already exciting,” he said.
Caldwell’s Bath routine is now well placed and as long as that involves playing good rugby and a happy family, he couldn’t be more pleased with life as it stands.