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Called up for your country

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Tom Fordyce | 11:38 UK time, Thursday, 11 March 2010

Let's allow ourselves a little fanciful day-dreaming on this busy working day.

After years of selfless toil out on the rugby pitch, slogging your guts out every weekend and having nothing to show for it but a bashed-up face and heavy limp on Monday morning, the reward you always craved has come: you've been called up to play for England against Scotland on Saturday.

Nice feeling, isn't it - but how does it work? Who tells you you're in, where do you go, how are you introduced to the grizzled legends already in the team? How long do you have to learn the set plays, what do you do about kit and what dreadful initiation ritual is there to go through?

With the assistance of two of England's most recent debutants, prop Dan Cole and lock Courtney Lawes, plus team kit technician Mark Povey, let's step into the inner sanctum.

Courtney Lawes playing against AustraliaCourtney Lawes in action against Australia during the autumn internationals

The call-up

Letter? Headline on Ceefax? Tip-off from a journalist in the know?

"When it first happened I got a call on my mobile from Martin Johnson," says Lawes. "The trouble was, I didn't have his number in my phone, so I didn't actually know who it was. I wasn't quite certain it was actually him.

"He told me I'd got the nod, and that he wanted me to come into camp. It was quite simple - be at the team's training base at Pennyhill Park at this time on this day."

The first day

"The drive down to Surrey was a nervous one," says Cole, who at the start of the season was only third choice tight-head for his club side Leicester.

"I could have got a lift with one of the other boys, but I didn't want to be presumptuous. The players who don't make the matchday 22 are sent back to their clubs on the Tuesday before a match, and I didn't want to make it look like I thought I was in, and then have to catch a bus home.

"I had no idea who was who and what the schedule was. Then, in your hotel room, you find a big welcome pack."

Introduced by former coach Clive Woodward, the pack (see below right) - a grey cloth folder, zipped around the edge and with the player's name embroidered on the front cover - contains everything an England player needs to know.

England playbook

"At the front is a welcome note from Jonno," says Lawes. "There are sections on what is expected of you as an England player, a description of the team ethics, the team plays for the week and a thick section on the tactics and strengths and weaknesses of that weekend's opposition - plus what we want to do to exploit those."

Cole's folder for the Scotland match contains homework - on England's plans for the lineout, on the set moves they hope to unleash and on his opposite number.

For obvious reasons - look away now, Andy Robinson - the exact details must remain under wraps. But there are pages on attack principles ("play at tempo"), team philosophy in bullet-point form ("We will give whatever it takes", "We will compete at every lineout") and explanations of team calls on the pitch.

An example? Should you hear Jonny Wilkinson scream, "KC!" at Murrayfield, a kick-chase will shortly follow.

"It's simple, but it helps reinforce the work we've done on the training pitch," says Cole, whose own book contains images of bulldogs with motivational slogans written underneath, courtesy of assistant coach Graham Rowntree. "Every decent team will have something similar, but each has a specific way of wording it."

There's advice on what to say to the media ("Basically, don't slag off your team-mates," deadpans Cole) and what kit you should wear at what session or function. Which, as we're about to see, is rather more important than you might think.

The kit

"Each player gets a phenomenal heap of stuff," says Povey, and he's not exaggerating.

If you were called into the elite squad for the Six Nations, the following would be delivered to your house before your first training session:

• A match-day jersey, embroidered with the fixture date and opposition details, plus a second one to be changed into at half-time
• Two pairs of match-day shorts
• Two pairs of match-day socks
• Two training shirts
• Two pairs of draw-pants (waterproof tracksuit bottoms)
• Two England t-shirts
• Four pairs of training socks
• Media-day polo shirts in white and purple
• One presentation top for the team line-up at the match (the purple tracksuit tops worn for the national anthem)
• Matching presentation pants
• Two pairs of padded pants (tracksuit bottoms) for contact training sessions
• Two compression tops, one long-sleeve and one short
• Two pairs of compression tights, one long, one short
• Compression socks
• An official bespoke team lounge suit
• Two formal shirts, two official England ties, cufflinks, belt and formal shoes
• A bespoke dinner jacket and trousers, plus bow tie
• Four England kit-bags - a large holdall, wheelie-bags large and small and a day-sack.

"The players' names are embroidered on all their kit," says Povey "not inside the collar, as if they're in PE at school, but initialled on the front of the kit.

"The only thing they need to worry about is bringing their own boots, as they have their own individual sponsorship deals."

When Johnson announces his matchday 22 on Tuesday, the details are sent to the kit warehouse in Basingstoke, where a woman named Annie has exactly 24 hours to embroider the 44 shirts and shorts and 88 socks with names and numbers.

Players keep this match kit. Everything else is placed in a personalised laundry bag. There is no need to worry about washing your kit. Povey takes care of it all.

"Twenty two years in the Army taught me a lot about attention to detail," he says laconically. "I've got my own underwear colour-coded."

The initiation

The stuff of fearful legend at amateur rugby clubs, the induction rites for a rugby new-boy are seldom pleasant. While England debutants are spared the regurgitated beverages and pint-pot horrors of the lower leagues, they are still forced to prove themselves to their new team-mates.

Dan Cole with his England cap

"You have to sing to the entire team," says Cole (see right, with England cap). "You do it on the coach after your first full cap. I don't like speaking in public, let alone singing, so I wasn't looking forward to it. I just searched my iPod for something that had short verses, a chorus that was easy to learn and ended pretty quickly."

His choice? "Stand By Me."

"I was lucky," says Cole. "Matt Mullan had to go first, and for some reason he chose 'Build Me Up Buttercup'. You get booed from the start anyway, but he got hammered. Everyone was shouting "No buttercup" at him as loud as they could. By the time it came to me, everyone was booed out. I just got told to get off."

Lawes is still waiting for his own moment, but has something special planned should he get the nod. "I'll do the theme tune from The Fresh Prince. I heard the rap when I was younger, so I can fall back on that."

The day of the match

Off the team coach, into the dressing-room. "Each player has a designated changing area," says Lawes. "Above your pegs is a sign on the wall with your name written in large letters."

Then, before kick-off, the final touch.

"You're given an actual cap by Martin Johnson to mark your first appearance," says Cole. "It's red velvet, with gold laces. It's smart. If you get 50 caps you get another one, in silver, and if you reach a hundred it's a gold one."

Finally, the call comes from the referee, and the players march into the tunnel. You're good to go.


  • Comment number 1.

    Brilliant idea for an article, and very well done!

    Any chance of doing the same for the other 6N teams?

  • Comment number 2.

    Great blog Tom, have often wondered about this kind of thing.

    Regarding the welcome pack with all the team motivation etc. - pfft! I'm pretty sure that, at this moment, England don't play at tempo or give whatever it takes to win a game!

    Was also wondering if newbies have to go and have their shirts fitted and personalised?

  • Comment number 3.

    Really interesting blog Tom! A ridiculous amount of kit though...

  • Comment number 4.

    Wonder what knowledge Dan Cole has learned about his opposite number Alan "Chunk" Jacobsen that we don't all know already?!

  • Comment number 5.

    What an amzing amount of gear!!! Great article though Tom.

    Always great to get an insight of what goes on behind closed doors, like those behind the scenes style DVD's that usually come out after a Lions tour.

    Actually brings out the guys human side!!!

  • Comment number 6.

    Cracking article, one of the best I've read on the site. I'm astounded by the amount of kit and am presuming they get fitted first - would have been great seeing Jason Robinson and Johnno wearing the same-sized kit!

  • Comment number 7.

    Excellent article Mr Fordyce, one of the best reads in a long time!!

  • Comment number 8.

    Courtney Lawes as the fresh price of Bel Air?!

  • Comment number 9.

    Haha. How very different to the athletics team!

  • Comment number 10.

    Tom excellent read.

    Congratulations on your award by the way, fully deserved.

  • Comment number 11.

    Its a pity they don't read that dossier full of what to do and how to play each week!

  • Comment number 12.

    benjief1, EssexCrookers - yup, the kit's all tailor-made. They either get details from the player's club side or track them down with an old-fashioned tape-measure.

    Jonny - from what the chaps were saying, they don't know what to do with all the kit. If you play representative rugby through the age groups, you end up with piles from every year. Parents' attics get very full, apparently.

    Rocketfoz01, Slater582 - what songs would you go for?

    LABSAB9 - very kind, sir, very kind...

  • Comment number 13.

    Great article, well done Mr. Fordyce.

    I wonder if any of the players have accidentally left the "welcome pack" somewhere and if another team has been given the goods on the team plays by reading this? They must have rules in place with regards to where and when this welcome pack can be taken?

    Very interesting stuff that you don't normally see or hear about.

  • Comment number 14.

    Tom - excellent article, well written and an enjoyable read. This is why you win awards!

    Just a Q: if you play only one match, do you keep the pile? I assume for subsequent matches you only get new match day kit?

  • Comment number 15.

    Nice piece - original idea, plenty of insight and an enjoyable read. Good work Tom!

  • Comment number 16.

    What an interesting article, nice work.

    Any chance of more of the same? What happens with new caps in football or cricket?

  • Comment number 17.

    Great insight Tom, thoroughly interesting read.

    I think if given the nod by England, I'd come out with a few bars of Ace of Spades or similar - something that would be louder than the boos...

    Are there any plans for another ridiculous sporting challenge this year?

  • Comment number 18.

    Great read and good to know... but not convinced that this is a publicity topic.
    I read "insight of what goes on behind closed doors" (Rocketfoz01)
    Unfortunately these doors seem to be opening... agree?

    Can rugby not continue as 22 *drunk* blokes having fun on a bus? - just my opinion

  • Comment number 19.

    13. mcrjfNo7

    I think that's what happened to Gloucster in the Heineken Cup against Munster a few years ago. One of the players/coaches left the sheet of tactics in a taxi in Limerick, and the Taxi driver promtly delivered the sheet to Thomond Park.

  • Comment number 20.

    Jordan D - yup, you get to keep the lot, even if you're a one-cap wonder. And it's two fresh match shirts for every game you play.

    shunt7 - good call. I'll try to find out.

    Paul Faithfull - Ace of Spades complete with air guitar and stick-on Lemmy moles? Would love another daft sporting challenge, but still recovering from the stress fracture sustained during the one-hour decathlon. I can't complain I didn't bring it on myself...

    RugbySaint1 - "22 drunk blokes having fun on a bus" - delightful definition of club rugby. Someone stick it in the dictionary

  • Comment number 21.

    I don't think there's any other way to sing a bit of the 'head...

  • Comment number 22.

    Without being an amateur psychologist (and I'm sure Woodward instigated this approach and would have investigated the psychological aspects) all this embroidery & obvious investment seems to say to a player 'i've arrived' rather than 'i've got to work harder to get there'. All that spoon fed 'intel' & a to z of how we play also seems a bit of a frontal labotomy and maybe even replaces the playing instincts that get a club player playing well picked in the first place?

    Would be interesting to get honest (there's a potential problem?) from current players as to the effect on them and their natural game (the game & form that got them selected in the first place) this sort of introduction has on them.

  • Comment number 23.

    What's the point in giving a prop forward something to read? Surely fuzzy felt and stickle bricks might be more appropriate?

  • Comment number 24.

    Did Cole's pack tell him not to drink the aftershave?

  • Comment number 25.

    As mentioned by everyone, great article and great idea. Please expand on this as its the most interesting part to most readers. Also any chance of a write up on BOD before his 100th cap? You probably already have Woody sorting that out but would like to read one.

  • Comment number 26.

    Excellent article! Very interesting.

    More blogs should be like this - telling the readers something they don't know, rather than mundanely discussing something that everybody has an opinion on and is aware of the surrounding facts, such as who will finish 4th in the Premiership or similar.

  • Comment number 27.

    Great Blog Tom, as usual, and many congratulations on the award - one of many to come I'm sure.

    Your comments regarding the amount of kit ring true, I played a few years of representative rugby as a schoolboy earlier in the decade and have enough kit to last a lifetime as a result. Friends of mine who have played from U16s to Saxons happily give away huge wads of kit, it ceases to be special when you have trailer-loads of the stuff.

    I'm interested to know whether or not the players would ever wear their England kit outside of an England team situation - those I know would be and have been ridiculed at their own club for doing so.

    I'd be interested to know how hard the seemingly vast array of calls that they are given are to learn - as, with the best will in the world, some of the front row will not be the sharpest tools in the shed...

  • Comment number 28.

    There was something else I asked kit-man Mark Povey - one of the enduring philosophical and metaphysical questions of our time: where do lost socks go?

    His answer: "In other players' kit-bags."

  • Comment number 29.

    Great Article, I've always wondered whether a cap is awarded every game, as I'd imagined after a few they would get slung into the players kitbag and taken home and put away in their pants draw.

  • Comment number 30.

    You get your very own brainwashing kit in a file - brilliant!

  • Comment number 31.

    And to think I have to pay £5 subs and have to provide my own Socks and shorts!!!


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