When a rugby player whizzes the scale-dial round past the 19 stones-mark and earns his living as a prop forward, basically a glorified shover of human flesh, ‘enigma’ is not the first adjective that comes to mind. But then Oliver Tomaszczyk is not your average front row meat-head.
The 25-year-old former Worcester Warrior was back in the West Midlands last Saturday, as part of the Newcastle Falcons pack currently embarking on its ninth-month Shooting Barrel Fish tour of English rugby’s second tier.
The trademark floppy mop, sausage legs and human bowling ball approach to the sport were all evident in the ruthless 53-13 hammering of Moseley, as both collectively and individually the men from Kingston Park strive to restore their battered reputations.
Right from the disgraced Dean Richards at the top, through ex-England forwards coach John Wells to even the most fringe players at the bottom, everyone associated with the Newcastle first team is on the comeback trail. Tomaszczyk particularly.
The promising tighthead gave a decent account of himself, at scrum time especially where any technical issues were obscured by the fact he was heavier and stronger than his opposite number. Newcastle’s set piece went forward, usually on Tomaszczyk’s side.
Just as he did when he was at Sixways he bullocked around in the loose, exuberant with ball in hand and solid without it, before he was replaced by Rob Vickers with ten minutes to go. During his time at Worcester he completed 80 minutes on just three occasions, and not at all during last season, the second of his two frustrating years with the club.
And therein lies the rub, by his own admission the Oxford University graduate was characterised as lacking application, indeed he would never claim to have hit the heights predicted for him by Worcester’s head coach Richard Hill.
But that does not mean he accepts every criticism without offering mitigation.
“From the off, I spoke to Hilly about this, he thought I was a bit of a slob student and I think that impression stuck. I think I am to blame for that impression,” he admitted.
“But equally I think there were times when I was in better shape but I was still a bit of a sloth, that’s how it is. I am determined to play my cards differently at Newcastle. I got good advice from some players. James Percival said ‘Look it’s a fresh start, don’t get a reputation for being a slob or as someone who doesn’t care less’.”
Tomaszczyk’s detractors were happy to buy into the cliché and while they might have excused him for the odd injury, very few knew about the family bereavement that affected him deeply midway through last term.
“It felled my game,” he said. “I made my mind up by December or January that it was time to move on and once your gut feeling tells you that, you have to do it.”
As much as the decision to return to the club where he started his career might have been a relief, the Londoner was not yet off the hook. His final appearance came in the LV= Cup in January but his time at Sixways was to wind down with a sting in the tail.
“I remember my last night when it was a presentation evening and I got my photo from my team manager and he said ‘You haven’t fulfilled yourself, maybe you will do so under a stronger character up north’.
“I remember feeling very bitter about that. I analysed that, had a bad evening, left early from the dinner, went back home and I was flying to Bangkok the next day. I beat myself up about it and resolved to do better with my new opportunity, whether it was going to be Championship or anywhere else.”
Offers came from France but it was a return to the North East – and the chance to work with Richards who, whatever one might think about his conduct in the Bloodgate controversy at Harlequins, has a hugely impressive coaching record, that appealed most.