Ben Cohen (rugby union)
|Birth name||Ben Christopher Cohen|
|Date of birth||14 September 1978|
|Place of birth||Northampton, Northamptonshire, England|
|Height||1.88 m (6 ft 2 in)|
|Weight||227 lb (103 kg; 16.2 st)|
|Notable relative(s)||George Cohen|
(m. 2003; div. 2016)
|Rugby union career|
Ben Christopher Cohen, (born 14 September 1978) is an English activist and former rugby player. He began his professional career with Northampton Saints in 1996; in 2007 he moved to France to represent Brive before returning to England two years later to join Sale Sharks. Cohen was also a member of the England team that won the 2003 Rugby World Cup. His main position was winger. In May 2011, Cohen retired from professional rugby. He founded The Ben Cohen StandUp Foundation to combat homophobia and bullying.
Cohen was born in Northampton. He was educated at Kingsthorpe Upper School. (Kingsthorpe College as known today) This was not a rugby playing school and at age 12 he first started playing with Northampton Old Scouts RFC.
Regarding his background, Cohen has stated, "My family's not Jewish, but a few generations back they used to be. I think it was my great-grandfather that married a non-Jewish girl and broke with tradition."
In November 2000, Cohen's father Peter Cohen, brother of English World Cup winning football player George Cohen, was fatally injured while protecting an attack victim at the Eternity nightclub in Northampton, which he managed. He died a month later from head injuries sustained in the assault. Three men were found guilty of violent conduct.
Cohen was married to Abby Blayney, with twin daughters Harriette and Isabelle (born 2008). He is clinically deaf, with about 30 to 33 percent hearing loss in each ear, and has been involved in efforts to make rugby more accessible to the hard of hearing, especially young deaf players.
When he was 17 he joined Northampton Saints and made his first team debut against Treorchy in the 1996/97 season, following which his name was rarely left off the team sheet. Cohen had long been linked with a move away from the club. Whilst at Northampton he started in the victorious 2000 Heineken Cup Final as they defeated Munster.
Following his release from contract from Northampton RFC in 2007, Cohen had been linked with midlands rivals Leicester Tigers, other English and French rugby union clubs and a switch of codes to rugby league at Harlequins or Wigan. His future had remained uncertain after he failed to join a Guinness Premiership club, several games into the season. He was selected for the Barbarians, appearing in the game wearing the socks of his first club, Northampton Old Scouts RFC. It was rumoured of a move to Harlequins RL with then chairman Ian Lenagan supposedly talking to Cohen over recent months, however nothing official was ever announced and he shortly afterwards signed for Brive.
Cohen signed a deal with Brive who play in the Top 14 competition in France. Fellow 2003 World Cup-winning and Northampton Saints teammate Steve Thompson was also at the club. He signed a contract until 2009. Cohen's move to the Limousin based club came after Cohen had stated "I won't be moving house."
In March 2009, Sale Sharks announced the signing of Cohen from Brive on a two-year contract. The move was called a "coup" by Sale's director of rugby, Kingsley Jones. At the time Cohen believed that he could make a return to international rugby through representing Sale. Unable to participate in Sale's pre-season warm-up matches for the 2009/10 season, Cohen made his competitive debut for Sale in September 2009 in a Guinness Premiership fixture against Exeter. The following month, Cohen scored his first try for Sale in a 36–17 defeat to Toulouse in the Heineken Cup. Cohen is one of the club's senior players and plays a role in developing Sale's young players. In September 2010 he noted that "I'm coming towards the end of my career and I've learnt a hell of a lot over the course of my career from some of the best coaches in the world. I think you've got to pass some of that experience down ... You have to have that blend of experience and youth and helping the younger guys out is something that I enjoy doing anyway." In late December, Cohen picked up a knee injury during Sale's 54–21 defeat to Leicester the side-lined him for six to eight weeks. It was announced in March that Cohen's contract with Sale would not be renewed and he would be leaving the club at the end of the season. He commented that "Sale don't want me anymore because they're trying to spend more money in the pack". Cohen, who represented Sale in over 50 matches, also said that if he could not secure a contract with a Premiership club he would consider retiring. On 15 May 2011 Cohen announced his retirement from the sport to focus on his anti-bullying campaign.
In February 2000, Cohen made his England debut against Ireland in the inaugural Six Nations Championship, scoring two tries. In June 2001, he joined the Lions tour to Australia, and although he did not figure in the Tests series he did score twice in the midweek match against New South Wales Country Cockatoos at Coffs Harbour.
During the 2002–03 season he played in all of England's matches, scoring against the All Blacks and putting in a try-saving tackle on Ben Blair, he scored twice against the Australians at Twickenham. He also scored against Australia in June 2003 as England won by 25–14, to complete their southern hemisphere tour unbeaten. In England's successful World Cup campaign he started in all but one of England's matches.
Cohen initially endured a difficult time after helping England lift the World Cup, admitting that he had lost his appetite for the game and he did not feature in the 2005 Six Nations Championship. However, strong club form saw him win a try-scoring recall against Australia in November 2005. He stayed among the England setup throughout 2006 and during the Autumn internationals, but missed out on the Elite England squad for the 2007 Six Nations.
He regained a place in the squad for the summer tour of South Africa and raised the prospects for the 2007 Rugby World Cup. However, in May 2007 Cohen ruled himself out of both England's summer tour and the World Cup, stating that he wished to spend time with his pregnant wife.
The Ben Cohen StandUp Foundation
In 2011, Cohen founded The Ben Cohen StandUp Foundation, Inc., which is, according to its website, "the world's first foundation dedicated to raising awareness of the long-term, damaging effects of bullying, and funding those doing real-world work to stop it".
Cohen was married to Abby Blayney in 2003, and they had twin daughters, whom they named Harriette and Isabelle. The couple have been estranged since 2014, and divorced in March 2016. In January 2016, it was announced that his former Strictly Come Dancing dance partner and now girlfriend, Kristina Rihanoff had given birth to their first child together, a daughter named Milena.
Status as a gay icon
In 2010, Cohen donated a signed jockstrap to support GMFA, a British charity addressing gay men's health issues, which was sold at auction at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern. He also featured on the front cover and in an interview section of GMFA's printed FS Magazine in November 2010.
In September 2013, Cohen took part as a contestant in the eleventh series of Strictly Come Dancing. He was partnered with Russian professional dancer Kristina Rihanoff. The couple were later eliminated from the competition, landing in eighth place. Cohen and Rihanoff later had a daughter together, in early 2016.
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- Ben Cohen charlestons out of Strictly Come Dancing: Radio Times 8 December 2013
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