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Lonely life at Ulster Rugby is not unusual for sole traveller Alby Mathewson

 

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Rugby nomad: Alby Mathewson has lived in six countries in four years

Rugby nomad: Alby Mathewson has lived in six countries in four years

�INPHO/Billy Stickland

Rugby nomad: Alby Mathewson has lived in six countries in four years

For all of us, dealing with separation has become something of a theme for this year. When we look back on 2020, it will be startling to think how much more we saw of loved ones on a screen compared to in person.

For the nomadic rugby player, though, it was a familiar feeling long before the pandemic.

When choosing to make Ulster the 12th club of his career in the early months of this year, New Zealander Alby Mathewson could not have imagined he'd be moving to Belfast in such restrictive times. Yet, he always knew he'd be doing so without his nearest and dearest.

The soon-to-be 35-year-old father of three has played in six different countries over the past four years, the uncertainty of globe-trotting on short-term contracts taking him away from a young family back home in the southern hemisphere.

"It's just me again by myself," he says ahead of Ulster's hosting of Scarlets at Kingspan Stadium tomorrow evening.

"Do training, go home and I'm by myself. I'm usually home by 4pm and my family would usually wake up around 9pm our time. So in terms of filling my days outside rugby, I'm 35 but a few video games here and there, bit of reading and a lot of podcasts.

"I'm going to look at hopefully picking up some kind of study to keep myself busy. I just finished one while I was at Munster, so maybe I'll pick something else up while I can, which I'm looking into."

While it was a similar situation for the scrum-half during his 15 months at Munster, the vastly different landscape before the onset of Covid-19 made things simpler.

"For me, I was there again by myself, no family or anything," he recalls. "So I've got some really strong relationships with those guys there, they'll be friends for life because they ended up being my family. I spent a lot of time with them outside of rugby.

"It's difficult outside of our bubble (due to Covid) here to get to know the lads well, which is always important in a team sport, getting to know the guys off the field, not just rugby. The only time I get to spend with them is in training and the gym. Hopefully things will change soon enough so I can get to know them a bit better outside rugby.

"That's the tricky thing, like I mentioned earlier, not being able to mingle outside of rugby. Although I have been to a few of the boys' places, with the way things are at the moment it's been tricky to do.

"All in all it's been fun though. We're winning, and you can't complain with winning."

 

To keep that six-game winning run going, they'll have to get past a Scarlets side who have been finding form and have won three of their past four.

"It's another tough game," adds Mathewson. "There are no easy games in the PRO14. Scarlets, they have very dangerous backs, they play some exciting rugby. We've got a big focus on us again.

"If we can play the way we want to play, implement our style and game plan, then that can go a long way to getting us a result.

"We know whilst Scarlets do offer a lot, we've got a big focus on ourselves as well."

Belfast Telegraph


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