NERVES of steel are a given when pulling on an England shirt and going face-to-face in the scrum against the New Zealand All Blacks, but former England and Bath prop Duncan Bell admitted a touch of the collywobbles during his first foray into martial arts.

Chipping Sodbury-based Bell used to call the shots on the rugby pitch, but you'll now find the former rugby star rolling about on a different playing surface for Yate-based martial arts club Gracie Barra Yate, where he recently landed Brazilian jiu-jitsu gold at the British Open Masters at the NEC, Birmingham.

Bell said: "I was always nervous before rugby matches, but I have to say that the first match I had I was more nervous than when I played for England against the New Zealand All Blacks.

"You can always rely on your teammates in a game of rugby, but when you're on the competition mats at BJJ you are very much on your own and no one can bail you out."

Bell's love of a bit of rough and tumble started during his rugby career, he said: "I originally started Brazilian jiu-jitsu when playing at Bath in around 2009 when Professor Salvatore Pace offered to train a few of the injured boys.

"I'm now really annoyed I didn't continue with the sessions! I always enjoyed the BJJ training and have wanted to take it up properly since retiring in 2012, but there has never been a school near me."

However, a martial arts Facebook advert pricked his attention and Bell was hooked again.

He explained: "I live in Chipping Sodbury and work in Yate so travelling to Bath to train wasn't really an option especially with a young family. Then by complete fluke in February I saw a Facebook advert for the club Gracie Barra Yate.

"I Googled the location and then contacted Antonio Bustorff and Jade Nash. I then went to the free taster session and signed up immediately.

"I now try to go to at least two sessions a week. I'm truly not exaggerating when I say that I absolutely love it.

"Whilst it's a individual martial art there is a wonderful team and family spirit within BJJ. This was evident at the British Open, where Antonio said I should give it a go. It was a fantastic atmosphere and egos really were left at the door.

"I'm glad I listened to Antonio as I am now the British Open Masters 3 Ultra Heavy champion! Not only has BJJ given me a massive buzz, but my wife Katie has said that I am more relaxed round the house and a better bloke to be around - her words not mine."

Bell believes the sport is something worth taking part in, he added: "What's great about BJJ is that it is open to all ages, sizes and gender. Injuries can be managed and all egos are left at the door. I urge anyone to try it once. It might very well be the best decision you've ever made."