News Editor Daisy Eastlake interviews Theo Dan, King’s student and England rugby player, about his first experience of competing in a World Cup.
Theo Dan, second-year undergraduate PPE student at King’s College London (KCL), has just returned from playing for England in the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France. England placed third in the tournament, and Theo himself scored three World Cup tries – two against Chile and one against Argentina. Roar spotlighted his impressive career thus far in the run up to France, but have since sat down with the England hooker to reflect on his first World Cup appearance and what it’s like balancing playing international rugby and studying at King’s.
Roar: So, congratulations, first of all! What are your main reflections over your first World Cup? When do you think England played well, how do you think they could they could have played better?
“It was such an unbelievable experience, I don’t think it really has sunk in yet – although we were in camp for four months, it feels like it’s gone so quickly. It’s tough to say what we could’ve done better – that semi-final is a scar that quite a lot of us will have to bear for a while, but we couldn’t have played much better if we tried. Unfortunately at the end, it just wasn’t enough.
It’s pretty obvious to say that towards the end our scrum started misfiring and obviously they brought on their replacements who were renowned for their scrummaging ability, and it was that aspect of the game where we sort of lost our ability. Ultimately that was the missing piece that let us down a little bit, but the margins were so small that it makes it a little bit harder to take, but we’d played so well in the lead up. Everyone had kind of written us off really from that game, no one had given us a chance. We had a game plan, executed it brilliantly, and it wasn’t enough, which is pretty devastating. But overall, I look back on that time in my life and I’m just grateful to have been a part of it.”
R: What does it feel like, scoring a World Cup try for England?
“The feeling sort of depends on the context of the tries. The two I scored in Chile, we were up already on the scoreboard – it was a game we were expected to win. So I was just buzzing to contribute to the team. But that one against Argentina, in that third or fourth playoff, had a lot more behind it. I’d missed a tackle literally a phase before, which was my fault, and then a minute later charging him down to score – it meant a lot more, there was a lot more emotion behind it.
What’s it like? In the moment, you don’t really take it in at all. Most the time when you’re on the pitch, to be honest, you’re just so tired – you’re quite happy to get a breather! But it’s got to be one of the most special moments in my life; I’ll treasure it forever.”
R: How do you maintain peak physical fitness during a tournament? What does your training routine and diet look like?
“The training stuff is all decided by strength and conditioning coaches, physios – you know, if you’re carrying knocks from the weekend then they’ll adjust your training – you don’t have a fixed routine, it’s quite flexible. I’m really just given a schedule and I work around it. In terms of eating and nutrition that is the one thing that really is within your control. The key with that is just consistency – consistency around your decisions, your food, making sure that you’re loading up the night before and on the day of games, getting enough carbs. It’s also important to understand how much you need; before, I’d heard about carb-loading, and I’d have like two massive plates worth of pasta and be like ‘Yeah, that’s perfect’. In reality, that’s enough if you’re running a marathon – it’s a lot smaller than I thought it’d be. So just being consistent around that.
Also for me, I have a massive sweet tooth, so it’s about just being able to control that and eat that at the right times. I’ve always struggled with that in terms of giving in to temptation. I always struggled with cutting it out completely, I never felt that worked – I’d cut it out for a week and be miserable, and then have like three days where I just eat a load of chocolate, and then all sort of progress is lost, one step forward, two steps back. It’s about recognising days where you’ve exerted a lot of effort and can have a treat at the end of it, or you have a high intensity day lined up where you need a lot of carbs and can give yourself a little treat then.”
R: Onto some more King’s focussed questions. With a career lined up in professional rugby, what made you choose to pursue a degree?
“I was 18, into my last year of school, and I had only a faint idea it was possible to play rugby but it was never a driving force in my life. I’d already confined myself to the fact that I’d be going to uni. I’d done my UCAS choices, and I’d been accepted to a few universities. It was Christmas-time in 2019 when Sarries [Saracens] started opening conversations with me and my parents about the possibility of going professional. I had a little feeling it might happen, but I was never like, ‘Ah, I’m gonna put my eggs in one basket and become a rugby player’. It was always something I loved doing and knew I was pretty good at, but it was never like ‘this is it’.
I’d gotten offers from LSE, UCL, King’s and Bristol, but I spoke to all of the universities once Sarries offered me my contract and none of them really apart from King’s were that keen on accommodating me. King’s were brilliant with me. It was also quite useful that there were a few older players at the time who had been studying part-time or full-time at King’s, so there was already a line of relationship that opened up between Saracens and King’s. We knew it was possible. They seemed quite open as long as I kept my academic performances high and I was turning up to seminars. I’m very grateful to the fact that I did choose King’s because 100% I wouldn’t be able to complete my studies if it’d been any other university.”
R: How do King’s let you balance being a professional rugby player and studying for a PPE degree?
“The biggest accommodation was letting me go part-time. I did my first year full-time and then now [sic] I’m splitting all my modules over two years. At the start they said it wasn’t possible, because part-time is only available for certain courses and PPE isn’t one of them; but after a year of being there and having a lot of discussions with programme directors and module leaders it became pretty clear it was possible. I’m incredibly grateful because if I’d have had to do full-time I wouldn’t have been able to complete it. Being able to do half of my modules a year is the biggest one.
I’m lucky that all the lectures are captured online, so I don’t have to go to them in person. I have training most mornings, and I don’t live in London so it’d take me an hour to get in from my training ground – it just wouldn’t work. I’m lucky I can train, get back home and do my lectures in my own time at my own pace. The only thing I have to go to is my seminars, and they’ve been great with those too. Usually they don’t let people change their seminar groups around, it’s almost like your seminar groups are set and you’ve got to work your life around them. Whereas with me, they let me pick and choose which seminars I get to go to because my training schedule is not flexible. They’ve been great with allowing me to do that and not penalising me for participation.”
R: How much would it take for you to play rugby for King’s at Varsity?
“I’d love to but unfortunately I’m not able to. Saracens wouldn’t let me, that’s for a start. That’s another part of uni life that I wish I experienced – being able to join societies, be a part of the social side of sports. I look at quite a lot of what the sport societies put on with envy, I’ll see on Instagram a lot of parties and events that these societies are throwing. To answer your question I’d love to, I’d absolutely love to, but maybe in another life!”