The Worksop man, now based in Northampton, gives a first hand account of the build-up to the Rugby World Cup...
“It is hard to imagine just how much Rugby means in New Zealand and the RWC 2011 has brought the country to a frenzy. The World Cup theme here is “Crazy About Rugby” and it is pretty close to the mark.
Air New Zealand have painted some of the planes in the colours of the All Blacks kit. The in-flight safety video for our flight down to Dunedin was performed by the All Blacks squad with head coaches Wayne Smith and Graham Henry as the pilots, Richie Macaw as a flight attendant and the players as various members of crew or passengers.
I have to admit it was very good – and very funny. First time I’ve paid attention for years!
We started ‘mini training’ camps at Twickenham in May for those players who had end of season surgery or whose teams had finished the regular season and needed some conditioning.
Eleven weeks of full training camp at our base in Surrey followed before our departure to NZ last week.
It has been pretty full on with the usual mix of conditioning and rugby specific training.
It has not been for the faint hearted and there have been one or two casualties along the way. I was particularly disappointed to see scrum half Danny Care sustain a foot injury to preclude him from the RWC.
Not only because he is a great player but also as he was an ex Sheffield Wednesday apprentice.
Not a good time for scrum halves as Ben Young’s also picked up a knee injury but he has recovered well under the guidance of ex Saints physio, Dan Lewindon, and will be available for selection against Argentina.
My most challenging task has been to restore Andrew Sheridan to full fitness and playing strength following a second shoulder operation at the end of last season. No easy task when you think what that shoulder has to put up with at scrum time and in contact.
The sad thing about training camp is that at the end the squad is reduced from 47 players to the 30 accredited players allowed to go the RWC.
I was personally very disappointed for two players who particularly impressed me both on and off the field – back row players Hendrie Fourie (now Sale) and Tigers Tomas Waldrom.
However it is a long tournament and we usually have to replace players along the way – I may see more of them yet!
The most disappointed I have been though was back in 2003 when now England forwards coach Graham, “Wig” Rowntree missed out. He has made up for it though by coaching at the last RWC and the Lions Tour to SA.
The warm up games went the way I expected them to. Ignore the media – they were “trial games” not must win games. You learn from the mistakes made in these games and take the team forward into the tournament in a better shape. They did reveal that we have a few areas to work on – great – we have got on and worked on them!
The pack are pretty formidable, Manu Tuilagi may go on to be a RWC star and forge a decent midfield partnership with Tindall and Chris Ashton back to full fitness could be a real threat.
We arrived in NZ last week and spent a few days in Auckland to get over the jet lag. It gave me an opportunity to meet up with ex All Blacks and Saints legend Buck Shelford and his family. I am glad to say he looks in tremendous shape after defeating throat cancer a couple of years ago.
He is now fronting “Cancer Awareness NZ”. We shared a few fond memories from his playing days at Franklins Gardens including the Pilkington Cup Semi final in 1991 when he single handily destroyed the giant pack from Orrell – including a young Martin Hynes! We also had the opportunity to go out and race two of the Americas Cups yachts around Auckland harbour. Cold and wet but tremendous fun.!
We flew down to our base in the South Island yesterday expecting minus two degrees and snow to find clear blue skies and weather better than an English summer.
Had to go out and buy suntan lotion for Chris Ashton – he is a bit pale!
We are in Dunedin which apparently derives from the word Edinburgh and no suprises to find a lot of Scottish links here. The Scots will not lack support during the competition.
Visited the stadium today which is a brand new one taking over from Carisbrooke which used to be called the “House of Pain” the ABs never having lost there.
The new ground is like a giant greenhouse – fully inside and covered by what looks like a giant plastic sheet. Bizarre – it may look better with people in it! The playing surface however is really good and should help produce e some tremendous Rugby.
Argentina on Saturday – cannot wait!
This is my fourth RWC and the excitation and expectation for me is greater than ever. This is a tough start for England we all know that but a win is essential. The Pumas will throw everything at us and will try and make the game as unorganised as possible, spoil everything then attack with pace.
We know what’s coming and hopefully have the personal and the game plan to deal with it.
What an opportunity. Time to get on with it!