IT was with great interest that I noticed the RFU poach British Cycling's head of minimal gains this summer.
As players are getting bigger, stronger, faster and fitter than ever before, any little tweak that can get the additional levels of performance is being sought. In signing up Matt Parker, the RFU laid down a marker that they will only settle for the gold standard of our Olympic heroes.
On a smaller scale, most sporting clubs are also looking for a gain that can push them to the top of the tree. In some instances this quest can go horribly wrong, as anyone who has witnessed the farce at Sunderland Football Club will testify. By trying to create a boot camp-like atmosphere, the eccentric Italian Paulo Di Canio only succeeded in alienating supporters, players and lost his job in super quick time!
However, when worked upon with a scalpel and not a sledgehammer, little tweaks can go a long way to improving a team.
I've already harped on about the lengths the Chiefs go to in looking for the little differences and may well have quoted the old maxim that a one per cent improvement in 20 aspects is indeed a 20 per cent improvement overall.
From the beetroot juice the guys consume on arrival, through to the bespoke one-legged rowing machine players in rehab love, I didn't think there was a stone left unturned in the pursuit of the all important edge.
That was until a discovery I made just last week when running out for Exmouth. This innovation has revolutionised the play of a rather plump 34-year-old to a greater extent than anything else in my 16-year senior career. This innovation is coloured boots!
Throughout my career, I was encouraged by those senior to me that boots with less than eight 21-inch studs or displaying any colour other than black (beyond a sponsor's logo) was not befitting a member of the engine room. Being keen to ensure I fitted the bill as the 'no-nonsense forward' people assumed I was, this became my staple attire.
From afar I was always dazzled by the magnificently coloured footwear adorning the feet of the guys in the backline but never had the courage to take the plunge.
As I've aged, my concern for the opinion of others has relaxed and last week, for the first time, I wore a pair of offensively fluorescent boots. Not only were they made of some modern composite far lighter than traditional leather, but in looking like a prize turkey I felt an obligation to justify them.
"You'd better play well if you're gonna wear them," was one of the nicer things said to me in the changing room. I would like to repeat the words of forwards coach and Chiefs legend Bob Armstrong, but know this is a family paper so will leave it for late night bar rooms! Needless to say, there was an expectation that if I was going to wear such crazy boots I had to back it up.
Come the game I think it's fair to say I played okay but of more note was the speed I seemed to generate in these 'flashy kicks'.
It felt like I was running faster than ever before every time I managed a gallop and, what's more, I was aware that the other forwards were also looking a damn sight quicker if they too were in flamboyant footwear.
Looking to the Chiefs, I see that a few of the guys maintain the old school standards with Tom Hayes, Dean Mumm and Jim Scaybrook in any colour they like... As long as it's black! I have passed my scientific discovery across to the conditioning staff and expect the old schoolers to embrace this new innovation very soon!
Already there are a few with the lurid boots that I maintain is gaining something of an edge. I am a brave lad but the green of Don Armand or burnt orange of Carl Rimmer are still a step too far just yet. Being only a few weeks into this minimal gain, I may yet muster the courage to go for it but will keep you posted as I experiment to find the optimal boot colour!
On the subject of optimal performance, one of our Chiefs showed that his golden boot is working better than ever as he passed a very special milestone for the club.
Since arriving from the Cornish Pirates as an unimpressive, chubby little fella, Gareth Steenson has transformed himself into one of the dominant fly-halves in the Premiership.
Just last week his 19-point haul helped guide the team to a fantastic come-from-behind win where we scored 17 unanswered second half points to beat London Irish at their home ground for the first time since December last year. If that wasn't impressive enough, this also meant that Steeno passed 1,000 league points for the club and is fast on his way to assuming iconic status within Chiefs folklore.
And finally, while on the subject of icons, my comment last week about Exmouth's rugby star-in-the-making George Savage has created waves of consternation amongst the folk of Crediton.
In calling Sav 'the best prop from the town', folk have been asking if I've forgotten about local legends Blackie Blackmore and Brian Steer, not to mention my old Barbarians teammate and one of the friendliest men in rugby Wayne Reed.
Having been in the company of George for a little over four months now I have to stand by my words. Playing some of the best rugby of his life, he is on top form both on and off the field with behaviours that have galvanised the Exmouth team to such an extent that a bonus point win over the league leaders was always on the cards last Saturday.
Indeed, with two minutes to go before the kick-off, he removed his earphones that were blaring out his favourite Elton John track (Candle in the Wind) and delivered a motivational gem that inspired us to a 15-point lead in as many minutes that was never going to be overhauled. His words? "Do you think I've a chance at X-Factor?"!
Until the next time, stay safe and enjoy your rugby.