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Inside the heart of a rugby international

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Tom Fordyce | 13:04 UK time, Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Most of us will never experience the brutal, thrilling, terrifying feeling of playing in a crunch rugby international. The closest we will get to the thump and dash, to the adrenaline and fear, will be the television screen, or for the lucky few, a seat close to pitch-side.

Like many others I've often wondered what it's really like. So, with the assistance of England's key players in this Six Nations campaign, I attempted to find out. They didn't disappoint.


The countdown begins

Kick-off is only moments away. Deep in the bowels of the stadium, the players are making their final preparations for the fights ahead.

"We have a pretty intense meeting just before we leave the dressing room," reveals flanker Tom Wood. "Five minutes before you go out, there'll be a very aggressively delivered speech from the head coach or captain. They remind us that, at the end of the day, a rugby international is a battle.

"It's fierce, but it's controlled. Very rarely are you banging your head against the wall; you know there'll be enough of that going on out there. In the modern game you have to be very switched on to the technical elements. There's not a lot of room for just passion. Teams are too good - if all you do is go forward aggressively, they'll go through you."

Into the arena

Out of the tunnel, into a wall of noise. How do you cope with the immense pressure, with the sensory overload?

"If you're clever you can get rid of a lot of the adrenaline and stress hormone in the warm-up, hit some pads hard and then have your second wind ready for the game," says Wood. "Then you've burnt off the tension and you're ready to settle into the game.

"I've found the anthems the hardest part. That's when you start getting charged - you get the passion of your own anthem, you get all the noise of their anthem, and you're thinking, I just want that ball to go through the air, and not to me.

"In my England debut at the Millennium Stadium, I looked down and saw that my knuckles were white from clenching my fists. You're trying to stay calm and take deep breaths, but you're looking up at 80,000 people and thinking, 'Agh, I hope this goes well...'"


The first breakdown

Two sets of forwards have piled into each other. The ball is about to come out on the England side. How does the scrum-half decide what to do?

Ben Youngs passes

Youngs makes a decision against Italy in this season's Six Nations

"The majority of it is spontaneous, playing off your instincts," says England nine Ben Youngs. "You have to make a firm decision - if you're in two minds, you'll hesitate for even a fraction of a second, and you'll be tackled or throw a bad pass or put up a bad kick.

"You have the patterns and structure around you, but if you see something you have to do it. For example, if you're running to a ruck and you see there's no winger, then you make the decision to kick. Whereas if you see the winger suddenly drop back, then you have to make another decision."


The first set-piece

It's your line-out, deep in your own territory. As a hooker, you trot over to pick up the ball, opposition supporters screaming abuse at you, aware that your throw could mean the difference between a try conceded or saved.

"I can hear individuals in the crowd behind me, I can hear the whole crowd making a massive racket," admits Dylan Hartley.

"It's in your head that this is your first throw, of what it means, so you break your checklist out.

"I've got three steps that I do. I get the ball, and I set it square in my hands - I get the valve in the middle every time, I get my hands set so my thumbs are at 90 degrees to the direction of the ball. I then check I'm 90 degrees at the elbow, bring the ball back over the head with the elbows at 90 and forearms straight through the hands.

"Then all I need to do on 'four', when you pull the trigger, is make sure my hands go straight through. If they do, the ball will go in straight. Sometimes it will come out looking ugly, other times it comes out with a nice spiral. But if you stick to your checklist, nine times out of 10 the ball will come out right."


The battle is joined

After a ferocious opening, both teams are going at each other hammer and tongs. Bone-crunching hits are coming in from both sides. How do you keep the aggression at the right levels?

"In the past I've let that get too high, and I went out on the pitch very angry and fired up," admits Wood. "That means you make mistakes - usually indiscipline at the breakdown, getting offside. So now I try to focus on details, on what we've been talking about leading up to the game, specifics of the line-out, our kick-off return. I make sure I'm focused on the detail of my role rather than the occasion and the gravity of what the game means."

Smash - you knock your opposite number backwards with a huge hit. What goes through your brain as your shoulder piles into his guts?

"You get this big adrenaline surge, especially if you get a big drive on afterwards," says Wood.

"But you have to make sure you don't spend time admiring what you've just done, because making a big tackle gives you an opportunity to steal the ball or make a mess of their ruck. And that can be difficult, because sometimes if you do something really well, you want to say, 'Hey, that was good - look at what I've just done.'"


The pressure is on

A series of powerful surges has driven the opposition back to their own 22. Somewhere there could be a tiny gap, an overlap or a weak point in the defensive line.

"The closer you get to their line, the more decisions you could make," says Youngs. "You need to have a perfect picture of the pitch in your head: how many players do they have around the corner, who's back on the short side, who just made that tackle, is he a prop, is he back on his feet yet, can I go through that space...

"Your brain is constantly ticking over with information, without you even being consciously aware of it - about the prop who might be down after a tackle, or spotting, ah, he's a lazy runner, he's only just got onside, he's knackered, right, we'll hit him on this phase and have a crack at him.

"Completely subconsciously you're probably thinking about 10 things all at once. I wish I knew how it happened, but my brain is constantly inputting things and spitting out answers. That allows you to make breaks and eight of 10 times make the right decision. You know your first instinct is to pass the ball, but you're thinking about all those other things - and then, boom! you do it."

It was Youngs' spontaneous break against Australia last autumn that set up Chris Ashton's scintillating try, one of the best Twickenham has seen.

"In my head it went: turnover ball, kick to clear our lines, picked up the ball to kick, realised in the corner of my eye they had over-chased, there must be a hole, ran through. That was literally a split-second decision.

"And there can't be any fear at that point - you kick or you run. You can't think, kick/run? Kick/run? You'll be tackled, driven over your line, five-metre scrum to them.

"Kick? Run? Run - boom, go! Head up, scan, see two defenders, catch, pass, catch, pass, Ash goes away to score. I don't know if it sounds challenging or easy, but your instinct naturally takes over. And you just have to go with it."


Crossing the line

As a speed merchant lurking on the wing, you see your scrum-half emerge from a ruck with the ball and spin out a pass. Instinctively, you turn on the gas.

"Before the ball even gets passed, I can see if there is a chance there, that there is a gap the first receiver could go through," says Chris Ashton.

"I'm already on my way - even if he gets tackled, I'm still going through. As soon as the ball was passed I might be heading on inside, knowing that the covering defender will have to go straight to the ball-carrier and that it would leave me free. My angle will just be straight to the line.

"As soon as he goes through that gap I will be screaming at him, and then as soon as I'm screaming at him I know there's no-one else there and that I'm going to be able to run in.

"You don't really hear the noise when you're running. But as soon as you put the ball down, everything else in your head stops - that's when you hear it. And it's a good noise."

What of the celebration? Is the infamous Ash Splash something he thinks about in advance?

"When I went clear against Wales, as I saw the try-line coming I had no intention of doing that celebration. It was just an explosion inside me. You don't get many chances to score tries at places like that, so you may as well take advantage of it.

"With that Australia try, I could have run to the top of the stadium and kept going out of there. That's the feeling inside you. But after it you're screaming and shouting, and then you think, God, I'm knackered! The adrenaline and energy runs out of you pretty quickly.

"A minute after I've scored, when it's all calming down, I think about my dad, who passed away last year. When I'm walking back, I have a little think about him."


Down to the wire

The game is a nail-biter, never more than one score between the two teams. It could be decided by one successful penalty either way. How does the kicker cope with the pressure of knowing that the entire match - and maybe the campaign - might shortly come down to one swing of his boot?

"If you know you're two points down and you'll be looking to get into their half to win a penalty, you'll start your mental preparation early," reveals fly-half Toby Flood.

Toby Flood makes a break

Flood looks for an opening against France

"If you've missed a big kick earlier in the match, or in the same situation a few years back, you have to understand that it's been and gone. That's just the way life and rugby is. You can't let it affect you now - you might be a different player to then, or you have learned from that experience. Acknowledge that it has happened, but don't let it faze you.

"You can tell yourself that, while your kick might appear to make the key difference to the overall score, it's not actually true. There will be 60 individual moments during the game that will have affected it just as much for better or for worse. But also acknowledge that good or bad things might happen here."


Under the cosh

10 minutes to go, and the opposition are all over you. You take a short pass on your own 22 and try to barrel your way upfield when BANG! you are hit high and low by two marauding defenders.

"If someone puts a big hit in on you, secure the ball," says Wood. "That's your priority. In the modern game you get smashed all the time, and taking a hit is a lot harder than giving one.

"The best thing is that the energy it gives you makes you want to reciprocate. It shouldn't be embarrassing if you get mullered - it might not be your fault, you might have been blindsided, but it does make spur you on to think, right, someone else has got to have one of those now.

"If you've been hit, get back on your feet straight away, even if it hurts, and get back in the game. Show it didn't affect you. That will frustrate the opposition - oh, I've smashed you - they'll be admiring their work and yet you're back on your feet before they are. Although sometimes you're concussed on the floor, so you have to worry about that another time..."


No margin for error

The ball has been secured, but you're still deep in your own 22. With the clock ticking, the game still needs to be won. Somehow, you have to get within kicking distance of the opposition posts. How?

"When you're close to your own line, instinctively your decision-making narrows," says Youngs. "You know you're less likely to play from deep - you're going to kick the corners, so I know I'll have to kick or pass, or put someone into a hole before you drop back and kick.

"If you lose a game there can be many reasons, but a lot of the time - especially when teams are very evenly matched - it's down to the half-backs.

"It's those split-second decisions that change games. And when they haven't worked, it's the ability to run those bad decisions off and go, right, I'm going to make a fantastic decision and put someone through a clean hole and they run the length.

"You learn from past experiences. If you've got five metres down the short side and you've gone down there and been driven into touch, in another game it might be on but you'll think, how long will it be on for, realistically a second? You are constantly calculating."


Edging closer

Three minutes on the clock. You have a line-out just inside the opposition half. Win this, and you can unleash a series of drives that could set up a winning kick at goal. In the way, snarling from the enemy line-out, is the best jumper in the world.

"If you've got a good line-out caller and you're throwing the ball into space, you've got a margin of error of a metre - you can under-throw it to your man's chest, you can go to his face, or his fingertips," says Hartley. "At other times you're threading a needle.

"It's the ones when you have the bunker in front of the green, the Paul O'Connell at the front of the line-out, where the drill needs to be spot on.

"You're stood on the line, looking down the line-out, and your line-out caller - Louis Deacon, for us - will always call it to where he believes there is space.

"We go in there with five different calls. If Paul O'Connell is marking Tom Palmer, they're not going to call Tom Palmer. They might call Tom away from O'Connell, and hopefully if the speed is right, he'll beat him to the space.

"If in doubt, go double-top every time. It's better to over-throw than under-throw, because if you see one of their jumpers get up at the front and you have doubt in your head, you don't want them catching the ball. If you go up big, the chances are your line-out man will get there and at least get a hand on it to tap it down, and even if it goes completely over the top you've got boys at the back who can clear it up."

"When I get a call, I can see which opposition player is opposite my target, and in that instant I know whether I need to go double-top, or if I can hit him with a safe ball to the chest."


The moment of truth

Possession secured, you drive the ball closer to the line. In desperate defence, one of their players goes offside at the ruck. Penalty. You have this kick to win the game.

"As soon as a decision like that is made, you get a rush of adrenaline, excitement, anxiety - a whole mix of things," admits Flood.

"But that first emotion doesn't last very long. When you pick the ball up, you have to believe in the set parameters and practices you have worked on in training. You dial into the where and what you're doing in terms of processes.

"You recognise that as humans we are all affected by pressure - it's completely natural. Confidence is a large part of it. Nothing can affect the kick that wouldn't affect it on the training ground. You have to believe that if you kick the ball as well as you can, you will definitely score; if you get it 70% right, it will still probably go over.

"Strangely, you try to relish it. These are the moments why we play the game, why you want to be a place kicker. It doesn't feel so great to just kick a penalty in a 50-point game; the bigger the kick, the more satisfaction you will take from it.

"It's why you do all that practising in all weathers; these moments are the rays of sunshine in your career."


The aftermath

You are battered and bruised, aching all over. You don't care. Victory, at the very death, has been won. But still you cannot rest.

"I do have a little smile on my face when I'm lying in bed that night," says Ashton. "But usually you just can't sleep.

"I don't know if it's the adrenaline, or the excitement, or replaying it all in your head. You're absolutely knackered, but you're all twitchy. You want to go to sleep but you can't. It's a strange, strange thing."

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Wow. Loved that, Tom, my heart's racing just reading it.
    Can't wait for the weekend's match now!

  • Comment number 2.

    brilliant blog Tom, cant wait for us to give the french more reasons not to like us on saturday. A couple more Ash Splashes for a start

  • Comment number 3.

    Quality blog, Tom. Quality.

  • Comment number 4.

    Fantastic blog, Tom.
    Gives a completely unique perspective on international rugby.
    I agree with #1 - the article got my heart racing.

  • Comment number 5.

    Smashing, you have told me so many things I wanted to know. Made me feel shattered just reading it. My heart is always with our Men of the rose when they play, it will be even more so this weekend.

  • Comment number 6.

    A nice try with something a bit different from the usual pre-match build up but it got a bit boring half-way through to be honest. Would it make any difference if you got some more interesting people to do tell you what it's like?

  • Comment number 7.

    Must admit tend to only watch internationals, but excellent q+a, got a lump in my throat, missed the cardiff game, curse of the friday kick-off but not working this saturday, got a lump in my throat just thinking about the battle ahead, come on England, come on Lads, don't even give them scraps, keep the pack rumbling all the way to holding the World Cup, we've got the quality, we've got the heart, it starts here and now, come on England

  • Comment number 8.

    Great blog Tom, especially the comments from Youngs, always interesting to hear the thought processes of the decision makers. I'd love to hear how the props prepare for a big scrummaging game like against France.

    Keep up the good work!

  • Comment number 9.

    Top article Mr Fordyce.

    Shame we didn't hear from the front row ...

  • Comment number 10.

    Excellent blog, Tom.
    But you could have published this on Friday. Now my adreline is up at match levels and its only bloomin' Wednesday!!

    You're a cruel, cruel, man.

  • Comment number 11.

    i now look at dylan hartley and think has he got his fingers right ,will the crowd stop giving him abuse ,and when he throws a bad one hes only human , but for 80 minutes it is a battle us supporters can only dream great article

  • Comment number 12.

    Great blog, always fascinating to find out what goes through a player's mind before, during and after a match. Apart from the 'during' I thought the 1997 Living With the Lions provided the most insight we're ever going to get from a filmed documentary. I can't imagine that level of access being repeated with any modern documentaries, one of the great insights into the setup of international teams.

    One of the reasons I felt I was always an average rather than good player for my team is that I was always fairly detached for matches, I never got pumped up in the same way as other players. I always fronted up and always wanted to win but I never went on the pitch in a rage or anything, which definitely gave other players their edge a lot of the time at school and uni matches. Funny to read that Wood seems to be saying when you take the step up to international level you actually need to force yourself to be more detached as it lets you cut down on your mistakes.

  • Comment number 13.

    Great article, gives you a real incite into the thoughts and motives of the players during the games.

  • Comment number 14.

    Yet another excellent article Tom, you brought the Ashes to life and now you're doing the same with the 6 Nations.

    Any chance you can take over the football blogs as well? You seem to know what you're talking about, and can take an unbiased view.....

  • Comment number 15.

    Thought Dylan Hartley was front row?????

    Great blog, agree with the comment about the Lions 1997 DVD. Great to have an insight, can't wait for Saturday!!!

  • Comment number 16.

    Good article I can't help but think Hartly was having a dig at the Welsh crowd "As a hooker, you trot over to pick up the ball, opposition supporters screaming abuse at you"

  • Comment number 17.

    Brilliant article, interesting to read about Flood relishing the big kicks1 I suppose that's why i'm not a fly half, i could never deal with that pressure on me, fair play to them though, they have one of the toughest jobs on the pitch.

  • Comment number 18.

    Absolutely brilliant article. I loved that parts of it were general and hypothetical and then there were elements that linked to real life examples - like the Palmer-Youngs-Lawes-Ashton try versus Australia.

    Fantastic blog :)

  • Comment number 19.

    I'm Looking forward to the next blog when France gub you at the self proclaimed 'HQ'.

    Really looking forward to it.

  • Comment number 20.

    Ah the front row, as i remember we didnt do much thinking! just smash, rip, fall over, get up shout at the stand off for kicking the poxy thing so far down field! when we have just got back...then the scrum, why shave? smelly shirts, linament or deep heat, vasoline on the ears and neck. I always remember an old prop who stank of fags he nearly bent me double!! that great feeling when you opposition went head down feet in the air, squeeling like a pig, the second row who caught your john thomas with his finger nails.. the flanker being careless with his head and catching the loose head on him napper then you taking the punch! I can also remember talking quite civily to my opposite number in the scrum. The first look at your opposite number when they ran onto the pitch and thinking "Jesus he's massive" I do so miss it..

  • Comment number 21.

    Great article, why isn't more journalism like this? Rather than the usual character assassinations for headline grabbing!!

    More please....

  • Comment number 22.

    ...and that little ray of sunshine is what sports writing is (or should be) about.
    Not the constant 'I would've' 'You should've'

    Not a Rugby fan but read, enjoyed and learned from all of it.

  • Comment number 23.

    Bring on the French!!! (great article Tom, very informative)

  • Comment number 24.

    One of the best blogs in a long time - a very good idea well executed and very informative. Bravo !

  • Comment number 25.

    fantastic blog, a bit different. Great stuff

  • Comment number 26.

    Well done, Tom - if only Saturday is half as engrossing!

    I believe it will be a tight match and what worries me is that England never seem able to up the momentum of their game in the latter stages once they fall behind - which may or may not be the case on Saturday. Granted, there is a measured calmness and self-belief to their play which is, in a way, reassuring. However, at times you wish they could move up a gear or two like, for example, the Welsh or Irish when their backs are against the wall. Whilst England plod on with their game-plan under these circumstances, the aforementioned teams become a whirl of activity and endeavour - which can look like panic at times, but at least you get the impression there is a sense of urgency to their play.

    But hopefully England will have done the business and will be out of sight after 60 minutes. Would be nice not to have to watch the last 20 on a knife-edge! Especially satisfying after Lievremont's comments - real 'back-to-the-playgroud' stuff ....

  • Comment number 27.

    Tom,
    Just to balance things out and make sure you don't go too big headed after all these compliments, I just wanted to say how rubbish this blog was.

    Joking obviously. Great blog, great insight. I see some similarities to what I experienced playing the game at a lower level.
    But it's good to see it's the same at the top : instincts, adrenaline, the nerves, the post-match excitement, etc...
    Interesting to see we're all made of the same stuff and that the key is how you conquer/manage all these on the day.

  • Comment number 28.

    It's fascinating to discover how proffesional sportsman feel before kick off, especially Rugby where it's so physical. Perhaps the BBC could broaden this item to see how Scottish, Irish and Welsh players feel. This article is a little Anglo-centric, lets not forget this is meant to be the British Broadcasting Corporation and the Celtic nations maybe forgiven for thinking that the 6NS is about them too.

  • Comment number 29.

    Great article.

    I can completely understand the comments from Wood about the pre-match mental preparation. While I never had a problem getting "up" for matches, I did do so in a comparatively low-key way when compared to most of the guys I played with, (preferring to mentally run through the individual situations that I would most likely face rather than stamp and shout and get others going).

    I also understand his efforts to almost tone-down and control the aggression leading up to the contact area. I needed this aggression and adrenaline in order to do what was needed and using that again and again and again in small busts throughout the match, (getting ready as an inside back to hit a ball carrier), and I am impressed that they can be so focussed, (or at least attempt to be so focussed), so as to do away with the adrenaline fueled burts and instead rely on a clear and precise thought process and ridiculous fitness levels instead.

    Quite amazed that test rugby is at that level now.

  • Comment number 30.

    Hello all - glad you're enjoying the blog. Just wanted to add something a few of you have mentioned - since we haven't included any words from the props in the main piece, I've dug out something Dan Cole told me last autumn when I asked him what an international scrum felt like for a tighthead:

    "Painful. The lungs are hurting, the legs are hurting, the back's hurting - you're just hoping that the opposition front row is feeling worse.

    "It's funny - you watch a scrum on tape afterwards and you've only gone forward or back an inch, but it feels like a mile when you're in there.

    "You're closed off to the world when you're pushing in the scrum. When you're going backwards it's not good. But when you get that forward surge, it's a good feeling. Your body is saying no, but the mind is saying you've got to. And that's a bit of a buzz."

  • Comment number 31.

    Great article and I really do enjoy your writing, Tom, but I have to say I agree with Bear7657, this is the BRITISH Broadcasting company, after all, could do with a slightly more impartial insight. I can't help but feel that this article would be very difficult were England playing how they did last year...

  • Comment number 32.

    A more impartial insight? Where is the bias in the players' comments? Alright, they are English players, but I can't see any xenophobia in there, only maybe in some of the subsequent comments. By the way, reading a certain Mr Beattie's blogs, don't see many similar anti-Scottish/pro-British comments - and don't want to see them either.

  • Comment number 33.

    Excellent insights, it would be fantastic to get this perspective from each team inn the contest!

  • Comment number 34.

    Great article!

    Preparation does seem to be key in all moments within the game. However, would that instinct be natural or is the amount of training which they do make them have that instinct? It seems for someone like Ben Youngs or Chris Ashton, that their instinct is almost like a habit. Especially for someone like Chris who says that he is always looking to find the gap even if it doesn't go to him.

    I'm not criticising this article because I do think it's brilliant :) but would just like to expand the 'instinct' part.

  • Comment number 35.

    brilliant article,I hope with an attitude like that you get the nod on saturday
    shame about "fickle fans" miserable ---!

  • Comment number 36.

    That was such a great read

  • Comment number 37.

    I am not a rugby fan either but I am a regular BBC reader/listener and love sport. Just want to say that having enjoyed this piece very much I wish there was a lot more like it on the BBC. Is it possible ?

    A wide-ranging set of analysis/comment from players of all of the Six Nations' teams would be more appreciative, although would take a bit of compiling, wouldn't it ? A job well done will get the plaudits it deserves, I feel.

    This is my first time commenting and did so because of the quality, not the quantity. Thanks very much, Tom.

  • Comment number 38.

    @19 - There's always one isn't there. Let me guess, another jealous Welsh, Scottish or Irish fan.

    It's called HQ because the game was invented in our country. Whether it's self proclaimed or not, the Headquarters of most organisations are in the country in which they were founded.

    Enjoy supporting your own team rather than hoping that others lose. It really is very sad.

  • Comment number 39.

    re 38...not jealous no, perhaps he just prefers France to win. why do you assume everyone wants England to win. God article or not maybe you're being the chippy one.

    And how many headquarters of organisations are still in the country they were founded? Do you know? Does it matter? The world has moved on, Brazil were (allegedly) taught to play football by Scots...not sure you would find many Scots chirping about them being better than Pele, Ronaldo, Gerson et al

    I refer to Brian Moore regards HQ/RFU
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/football/teams/england/8255637/Brian-Moore-a-touch-of-humility-could-go-along-way-in-making-England-a-world-player-again.html

    take a leaf

  • Comment number 40.

    Thanks Tom, one of the best sports articles I've ever read. No wonder Ben Youngs is so good with that much brain activity going on. Hopefully they can put it into practice against the French. Come on lads!

  • Comment number 41.

    Excellent article. I'm not really a rugby man myself but anything that involves my country (England) in a sports event does grab my interest. What I found really interesting about this was trying to work out what went through an England footballer's mind when they played? They certainly don't appear to have the same passion and determination - probably too busy sleeping with other people's girlfriends and counting their money :-(

  • Comment number 42.

    re: 39. Just had to say thanks for posting the link to Brian Moore's article - that too was an excellent read. I semi-agree with his general sentiment, although it's tough to take that from a guy who was a complete thug on a rugby field and one of the most arrogant drinkers in any of High Holborn's bars\pubs in the 90s, where he spent a lot more time than he did working as a solicitor (or whatever it was he was supposed to be doing!)

  • Comment number 43.

    I've always taken 'HQ' (annoying nickname though it is) to refer to the place as the headquarters of English rugby, not the game itself.

  • Comment number 44.

    Good blog - it makes a change from the usual provocation blogs that incites anti English codswallop.

    I have always been interested to hear how the pre-game preparation matches with those who played in the early 90s before professionalism. Today they must spend hours/days working on conditioning, training, line out calls, backs move, diet, relaxation, physio etc...

    I wonder how that compares with the England 'camp' when Brian Moore had to come from the office, or Rory Underwood was on his way back from his base, or if big Wade Dooley could get his shift as a bobby moved.

    This must have had an effect - I would suggest the lads in the early 1990s were up for it in a different way. Rugby was their passion not their job - there was no money involved (officially!). It is no wonder the French front row spent 30mins before the game slapping (literally) themselves around the face.

    I would also like to see how both teams prepared socially before and after the games. Dean Richards and John Jeffries losing the Calcutta Cup in 1990 whilst on the lash spending their beer tokens. As brilliant as it would be, you are hardly likely to get Lewis Moody and Ally Kellock trooping along the royal mile.

    Perhaps another day for the comparison.

  • Comment number 45.

    Pipe down 39....There is no assumption that everybody would want England to win. Quite the opposite in fact, particularly when it comes to Six Nations Rugby. That's why our wins are all the sweeter.

    I can assume that you are Scottish however, by the reference which you have made in your second paragraph. I am struggling to understand the relevance though. Perhaps clinging onto the dream that Brazilians are only a great footballing nation because they were taught by the Scots. Hmmmmm.

    The point is that Tom's blog is excellent. It just so happens that the subject was the English team. Proud winners of the most Six Nations titles, Grand Slams and Triple Crowns. So probably the most fitting team to be the subject.

    Well done Tom. And when you do a feature on football teams, can you pick one of the top 50 Fifa ranked teams, you know, the decent teams.....

  • Comment number 46.

    @45 - Dont mean to sound pandantic but England are NOT the proud winners of most six nations titles. That accolade goes to France. Wales hold the most Home nations titles. England gained ground with the Five nations. Overall England have the most but Wales are quickly on their tail with one less championship. (Though that could be extended to 2 by the end of this campaign, but lets hope note hey).

    As for the article, it was a good read, even for a welsh man. Dont know why theres still anti english comments mind you dont have to read it you know. I aint gonna complain i read everything to do with rugby, whatever the team.

  • Comment number 47.

    Certainly a good blog: spontaneity, insight, no cliches. What a contrast between this and the typically self obsessed cobblers you get when you ask the members of our football team for the inside track, or anything else for that matter.

  • Comment number 48.

    Tom and Ben tend to do a lot of reporting on England sports and this is a one of the best articles I've read to date.

    I would like to say that most of the home nations are provided with space on the BBC, the Welsh have Scrum V their own TV program, John Beattie Snr has his BBC blog entry weekly and most of the nations are covered in the blogs of Bryn Palmer (who seems to have disappeared off the blog list).

    So in fairness the amount of coverage is fairly spread sbout.

    Keep up the good work, its glad to see that there is a lot more thought than passion, it'll make me look at who crying at the national anthems and the first mistakes in the game a lot more closely.

  • Comment number 49.

    Great blog Tom, made for fascinating reading. Already looking forward to the game on Saturday, win or lose it'll be thrilling but let's hope for a(n England) win. Nothing wrong with the BBC backing the only British team left with a chance for a grandslam!

  • Comment number 50.

    I would love to see a massive punch up in the England v France game on Saturday, just like the good old days of Micky "the Munch" Skinner - you just don't see enough good old dust ups these days. Fingers crossed for a bit of proper passion by way of fisticuffs on Saturday!!!

  • Comment number 51.

    Got, a bit carried away with supporting my team, to be honest I wasn't really thinking from an English perspective because of the players involved, the article could have involved any of the home nations, and would love to hear whether they pick out the English for special animosity, who doesn't? It was a snapshot into our sporting life, like jumping the last leading the National, I will never feel that but to breathe the same air in my imagination even for a moment gets the blood coarsing.
    NB read the cloudspotters guide recently, excellent book, fascinating, but at no point did I consider those English clouds floating above my head, enough of this HQ bobbins just gets peoples backs up

  • Comment number 52.

    Found this really Interesting :) keep it up

  • Comment number 53.

    Outstanding blog, I wish there was more of this top quality rugby journalism to read on the BBC. This is going in my favourites. Fascinating stuff.

  • Comment number 54.

    brilliant blog tom, there should be more of this quality on the BBC! i read somewhere that someone says you should take over the football, but i think you would be wasted on such a sport where the passion is not anywhere near this level, hence meaning you wouldn't have been able to write this blog.
    i absolutely cannot wait now for the game tomorrow, it's whats been keeping me going all week. FUELLED!!!

  • Comment number 55.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 56.

    Top blog. Rare to get such a well written insight into the real story. I'm sure players from every country have similar tales to tell. Let their followers read it in their own national press!
    I'm proud to be English, and lucky to still be playing rugby.

  • Comment number 57.

    What a fantastic feature.

 

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