Mark Perego set new standards for fitness during his playing days as one of the great cult heroes of Welsh rugby and he’s still doing so now in his late 50s.
The former Llanelli and Wales flanker is perhaps best remembered for his unique training regime, which saw him running through the woods Rambo-style with an axe.
That was famously captured on film by the BBC, adding further to his reputation as something of a one-off and someone absolutely dedicated to staying in peak condition, a commitment that helped him win nine caps between 1990 and 1994. Now, some 30 years on, he is still looking after himself and putting in the work on his fitness, as a recent picture reveals.
Little has been seen of the former fireman in the public eye in recent times. In fact, he’s become something of a mystery man. I’ve been trying to track him down for one of my life-and-times interviews for three or four years, leaving messages and contacting acquaintances, but I’ve had no joy yet. It’s all added to the enigma and made him something of the Holy Grail in my quest for former player interviews, with his name of him repeatedly being put forward by fans as someone they would like to hear from.
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But now we are at least able to see what he looks like these days and it shows he’s in great nick. A picture has been posted online by the Keri Mckibbin Personal Training Gym of Perego at the Burry Port fitness centre.
Accompanying the picture, Keri said: “Fantastic to have the iconic Mark Perego at the gym providing he’s still in incredible shape. Mark was one of the greatest Scarlets and Wales players of his generation of him and a great human being too most importantly. He was way ahead of his time when he came to physical conditioning and he hasn’t lost any of it. He is a great person.”
Perego, now 58 and apparently living near Fishguard, is a man who regularly crops up as the answer whenever I ask former stars who was the greatest character they came across in the game.
Lyn Jones played alongside him in the back row for both Llanelli and Wales and provides a fascinating insight into what made him tick.
“The stereotypical action of a rugby player in the golden days was to finish playing at 4.30pm on a Saturday and then have a gallon of alcohol, which meant you weren’t able to recover until about Tuesday afternoon,” said Jones.
“Well, Mark Perego wasn’t like that. He recovered straight after the game and got himself ready, which we all thought at the time was a bit strange. But it wasn’t strange, it was the right way to do things. Mark was a professional before his day. When he played rugby, he wanted to do it to the utmost and to the best of his ability. He worked very hard.
“I thoroughly enjoyed Mark’s company and he was a good man to speak to and a very entertaining man, but very private also. He was his own man of him and I respected that.
“He was great to play with in terms of his focus, his attitude. I didn’t learn how to tackle until I was about 27, 28 and it was only through playing with Mark and watching him make all my tackles that I realized how you do it. I remember one game against Bridgend at Stradey Park I managed to get him to make four of my tackles within 15 seconds. That’s probably the best piece of rugby I ever produced!
“A lot of people remember the footage of him on the BBC running through the woods with an axe, cutting trees up. The following week it was my turn to do it. I did a parody of Mark. He had a big 10lb axe, I just had a little hatchet! It was a bit tongue-in-cheek from him. I’ve finished off hanging upside down peeling a tangerine. That was Mark.”
Former Wales scrum-half Rupert Moon played with both Jones and Perego: “Lyn had something odd about him in a weird and wonderful way. He was a quirky individual, but not quite as quirky as the man who was known as Marcus et Peregus, Mark Perego, the quirkiest of all characters. Rugby meant a lot to Mark, but he could turn a tap off and deal with it.”
Someone who knew Perego better than most during his playing career was ex-Llanelli and Wales forward Phil Davies, who shared in the 1994 Five Nations title triumph with him and is now World Rugby’s Director of Rugby.
“We used to train together quite a bit and go down the country park. I would drive to his mothers from him and we’d put these army boots on and off we go. Whatever the weather, we’d be there in shorts, socks, T-shirt, army boots, with him carrying his axe,” said Davies.
“Then off we would run into the woods. We did some crazy training. We used to put logs on our backs and run up hills. It was great fun. The trees had been felled and we would cut them, just like in the old Rocky film I suppose. He was into all that Mark, he absolutely loved it.
“Anyway, this one day, he had bought a new axe. After he’d had to go, he said ‘Your turn’. The long and the short of it is I broke the axe. Well, well, you could swear I had committed murder. He was tamping. I had to go and buy him a new one!
“Mark was a character but a great player as well. He was ahead of his time in his professionalism and his tackling of him. If he had consistently played rugby, he would have been rated as one of the best ever.”
Another player who frequently crossed paths with Perego was prop Huw Williams-Jones, a team-mate with SW Police, Llanelli and Wales.
“He was nuts!” I have declared “We went to Lanzarote with Wales on a training week before the 1993 Five Nations. He had this little wooden pig with him. He called it Mr Pig.
“He took him on the airplane with him, when we went out training he would lay it down on a towel and rub suntan lotion on it, he would take it in the pool with him. It would come everywhere with us. At breakfast, if somebody came over with bacon rolls, he would put a blindfold on the pig to stop it seeing the bacon because he said it would upset him!”
As for Perego’s trademark training regime, Williams-Jones said: “I saw him first with the ax when we were on tour in Canada with the police. We were playing on Victoria Island and there were big logs all around. He found an ax and his warm-up was just smashing the ax into these logs like a lunatic.
“He said to me one day ‘I love sharpening my ax and carrying it around with me. It’s just a lovely thing to have an axe, isn’t it?’ I was going ‘Be careful where you carry it!’”
Williams-Jones continues: “I remember another time, I was getting these postcards to the house with these prophetic sayings on them like ‘Have you ever stood under the waterfall of life and felt the icicles of treachery down your back’ and all stuff like Este. It just had ‘MP the Third’ on the bottom of it. A couple of months later, I bumped into Pegs and he said ‘Have you had my postcards?’ I was going ‘So it was you!’
“He used to call himself Marcus Peregus the third. Like a Roman centurion and sharpening his ax from him. What a character, what an absolute character. He was kooky all right. He was one of a kind, but you could have some serious conversations with him as well. He had this kookiness, but it wasn’t just all nuts and fun and games. He could be sensitive. He was a lovely bloke.”
The tales of Mark Perego, the man they nicknamed Oddball. A unique character and still in top shape.