He first started playing premier rugby before John Key was even in Parliament and when Kieran Read was still at high school. Chris Bell has outlasted both of them. On Saturday he is scheduled to play his 272nd game for Zingari-Richmond, a record for appearances in Dunedin premier rugby. Rugby writer Steve Hepburn talks to Bell.
Chris Bell played a year for Otago B — doesn’t know when, doesn’t know against whom.
He played in a side which lost 33 games in a row but said it was a great learning experience.
Chris Bell is old school. Loves the game, life and Zingari-Richmond.
There are no big representative ambitions and detailed analysis for Bell.
Last month, his wife, Anna, gave birth to their second child, Noah, on a Friday morning.
Early the next morning, with wife and new son still in hospital, he went duck-shooting. It went well and was done by early afternoon. So he texted the coach and nipped up to Montecillo to play the second half for the side against University.
After that he went to the hospital, picked up wife and newborn son, and went home.
"I usually always take duck-shooting off rugby as it is a good break to get the body right. This year — my wife is very understanding — I managed to get plenty of ducks so messaged the coach and he said, ‘Sure, come up’," Bell said.
The side ended up going down to University but had some good patches.
That was the story of Zingari-Richmond over the past few years, Bell said.
"We’re not far away and the guys are trying. But we’ll have a 10 to 15-minute period where we just fall away. The opposition puts up 20 to 30 points and it is game over.
"It is a hard one to put my finger on as we train hard and do well in training and as a team we’re fitter than we’ve ever been. We probably haven’t got the depth of the other clubs and as the game goes on it shows."
The wins do not come too often. The side has won twice in the past three years. Bell, a loose forward, still enjoys playing though.
‘I’m lucky I get to play with and against some really good players. I’m playing with an ex-All Black in Nehe Milner-Skudder — how good is that?"
"A few weeks ago we beat Dunedin and the smiles that put on people and the feeling back at the club, that was great."
Bell, a loose forward and occasional lock, started at Zingari-Richmond aged 17 in 2002 and was bumped to the ground in his first premier game — he picked the ball out of a ruck and ran into the shoulder of Highlander Filipo Levi.
But he got up and has never stopped since.
"As you get older you learn how to get away with things.
"The game has changed in so many ways. You’ve got to keep learning, all the time or you won’t keep up.
"The game has got faster but isn’t as physical as it used to be. You don’t get those older guys any more who were really hard and were very physical. But it has got more scientific. The game has a lot more emphasis on attack."powered by Rubicon Project
Bell, who is 36, said the scoreboard had not been kind to Zingari-Richmond in recent years but he never once thought about switching clubs. He had been asked to play for other clubs but never considered it.
He was captaining the side this year but it was not something he pursued.
"I’m really only captain as I think it takes some pressure away from guys who have been captain and don’t need it on their plate. All I do is just try to implement what the coaches want.
"The recruitment thing — it can be hard to promote a losing club. Once the guys come to the club they stay and really enjoy it. We’ve got a colts team up there now and got three teams this year which can make for a good clubrooms.
"It is hard to get players when there is a lot of negativity around. I struggle with those guys who are in the Otago system.
"Why don’t they want to come up to Zingari and lead a team? Put their hand up. Instead they’ll go and play for Kaikorai because they’re a good side. Not want to be a bit braver. We just need to get them through the door. It can be frustrating."
Bell, who works as a sheet-metal worker in the family business, was part of a Colours side which lost 33 games in a row before beating University in 2012.
"It built a lot of character. Who you would want to go into battle with. Who your real mates were."
Bell said the landmark of playing 272 games was not just about him but was about the club and all the guys he had played with and had helped over the years.
He said Zingari-Richmond forward Gary Beattie had been a real inspiration when he started while, off the field, people such as Brendon Hewson, Murray Collie and the late Grace Mills had given fantastic support.
The appearance record was held by Taieri and Green Island loose forward Erik Vaafusuaga. It was thought he had played 269 games but a recount lifted it up to 271 matches.
Bell, who has won about 80 games in his career, will break the record against Alhambra-Union at the North Ground on Saturday
"It [the record] has been at the back of my mind for a while. Not a goal as such but something I’ve been aware of.
"Is that going to be it for me? I don’t know. I’m not sure. What will happen, will happen."
Otago Daily Times