On Friday night, I was coach of the England v’s Rest of the World, RugbyAid charity match, for the transition of military service men and women back into civilian life. Teams made up of old pros, military service men and celebrities. The buildup captured all the true values of rugby. No airs and graces, no titles or jobs greater than that of anyone else. But I couldn’t help feeling it surreal as we headed to Chelsea for a bonding session, to be sat with a particular friend and former playing colleague Neil Back, as we turned to talk to Brian McFadden and Gary Beadle, Westlife & Geordie Shore respectively. The celebs who stood out in the match for me were Harry Judd and Jamie Laing. The latter who clattered former Scottish International to the floor with a cover tackle, before elegantly lofting a ball over the irrepressible figure of Brad Thorne, only for Brad to carry on with a pile driving tackle; and even after that he chased back 50m to try and stop the last score. I once revered the physical South African AJ Venter, only for Britain’s Strongest Man, the 185kg Terry Hollands, pick him up and throw him down like a piece of unwanted washing. A win for Rest of the World but really a winner for the charity and those who got to play and watch an eclectic mix of individuals all loving rugby.
Now to the topic, that will dominate rugby for the next 2 months. The England players will finally be seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, as many come out of their longest ever preseason, feeling the physical benefits of individualised programmes. At this point, they won’t be forgetting the hours spent reaching their physical limits daily, crunching over on their knees to be told to get back to their feet to help recover. The fierce burn from the bottom of their lungs to their throat, to the stones that seem to set into your quads post session. Let’s also not forget the unsightly view of 17 stone men walking around hotels wearing tights, which whilst aiding recovery, don’t look the best.
Last Monday, saw the official 31 man squad assemble at Pennyhill Park for the 1st time. Elated in the knowledge they had made the cut but also that some friends didn’t quite make it. It was essential however, to reduce numbers to concentrate on combinations and repetition in training. In my eyes, there were still places up for grabs in the starting XV against Ireland.
England will be happy to have completed their final match with a win against last season’s 6 Nations Champions. Whilst losing away to France was not planned (or desired), Saturday was a good exercise in coping with pressure and expectation. The areas that had unraveled in Paris functioned better, giving the backs a platform to play off. Jonny May showed the speed we have been accustomed to but also the ability to bump off Tommy Bowe on the way to his try. Whilst on the other wing, Watson leapt to the pinpoint kick of Ford for his. England’s ability to handle Ireland’s aerial attack from box kicks was equally pleasing from the previous exchange in Dublin. The team can feel confident on the back of their final friendly before the real deal starts next week!