How my team-mates will spend this day of destiny
The mood in the England camp would have really changed after the captain’s run at Twickenham yesterday. Chris Robshaw would have taken that session, with the coaches taking a back seat. Chris sets up different match situations – line-out here, scrum there. A good captain’s run sets the tone.
Afterwards, at Pennyhill Park, family and friends are allowed to come down. Players have the afternoon off and some, such as Owen Farrell, will go to the hotel.
The great thing about the eve of a Test is that you are allowed sweets and dessert for the first time in the week. Basically, anything you eat will be burnt off the next day. Courtney Lawes is one who likes to take full advantage of this by loading up on popcorn and pick and mix at the cinema. I do not know how he eats it all but it does not show on him. At dinner on the eve of a match we are also allowed pudding – apple pie and cream is normally favourite.
The squad gather for a talk about 6pm. They are presented with their match shirts and the coaches and Chris will address them. In the past, we have had personalities from other sports give us a speech.
The most inspirational was Jamie Peacock, the Leeds and Great Britain rugby league player, who told us about the day he was going for a trial when he had a moment of doubt and got off the bus on which he was travelling. He phoned his father, who told him to get back on the bus and the rest was history. The message was: “Do not get off the bus.” It hit home with a lot of us. We never give in. We never give up.
The England players will have woken up this morning in separate rooms at their hotel in Bagshot for the first time this week. Before last night, they would have been sharing with a team-mate but, before a Test, they are given their own space. If they are anything like me, they would have struggled to sleep – I always do the night before a match, going through different game scenarios in my head.
If any of the players had wanted to review video footage of their opposite numbers, they could have done so on their laptops.
Normally with England, when you are sharing a room, you head to breakfast at the same time, about 8am, before training sessions. But match day is different. The players tend to have breakfast later, as it is such a long day. They will wander down in ones and twos. There is less banter as each player is already in his own bubble.
Everyone is in that zone. The key is not to let your emotions overcome you during the day. It is a long day. As it is an evening kick-off, the players will have an early lunch before going for a walk through at the indoor facility. The forwards and backs will split into two units and go through their work. This is the moment when the team leaders make themselves heard, the likes of George Ford, Mike Brown and Brad Barritt, who runs the defence.
It is surprising how many balls go down at this session, but it is about getting tension out of the way and warming up slowly.
Then it is back to your room to do a final check on your kit. I always keep a new pair
The great thing about the eve of a Test is that you are allowed sweets and dessert for the first time in the week
of boots for each match. Most of the backs do. Some of the boys will give them a run out during the captain’s run the day before to break them in, but I always like to keep them new for the match.
It is different with the forwards. Some have started wearing white boots, but I love the fact that Dan Cole and Tom Youngs will still have mud on their boots before kick-off. Their boots have such long studs I do not know how they run in them, and in the changing room they will be banging them together to knock off the mud.
The players will eat again around 5pm but by this stage you are sick of eating. You are only doing it to fill in time and get some carbohydrates in. It is normally pretty bland food, like spaghetti bolognese. Some of the boys hardly eat anything, whereas the likes of Tom Wood will eat a lot. By that stage, it does not really matter what it is because we have eaten so well during the week.
Before the players head to the ground, there will be another short team meeting, with Andy Farrell and Graham Rowntree talking about what to expect from the opposition. Stuart Lancaster will also say a few words, but by then he has handed most of the responsibility over to the players. The coaches’ job is done.
The coach journey from the hotel to Twickenham is a memorable experience. The hotel staff normally clap the team on to the coach and the police outriders clear the traffic. Most of the players will be totally in the zone, wearing headphones and listening to music. They will all sit on their own if possible and, if not, each player will be looking in the other direction.
It is always uplifting to see the crowds standing outside the pubs near the ground cheer as you arrive. Outside the stadium gate, there is an elderly lady who gives a rose and a handwritten message to the captain. Chris will leave the message for the team to read in the changing room – it normally wishes you good luck and tells you to win!
Everyone has their own routine in the changing room. The music is normally on loud and there is an upbeat vibe. George, Owen and the scrum-halves will get straight into their kit and go out to do kicking. The hookers, too, like to get out there to do some throws.
Some players will see the physio before they get strapped up and put their kit on. Then it is time for the warm-up, which will be taken by Andy Farrell and Rowntree, as well as the conditioners. It is short but intense. The players want to warm up, run some moves, throw some line-outs and do some hits. Once they have returned to the changing room, Chris will talk to the team. He is measured, but by this stage all the players are up for it. The days of losing control of your emotions before kick-off have long passed. It is too professional for that.
The moment that stays with me is when we get the knock to leave the changing room. By this stage, the bench players and coaches are lined up outside to applaud us out. It is one of those times when all the hard work, all the training and commitment, leads you to a moment of sheer elation. I have never found anything else that replicates it. You are representing England and about to hear the roar of the Twickenham crowd. Nothing beats it.
Tonight, it will be extra special for the boys. It does not get much bigger than representing England at a home World Cup. I wish I was there tonight, but I will be with the boys all the way. Never get off the bus.
All smiles: Ben Youngs, who will win his 50th cap tonight, leads the squad out for yesterday’s captain’s run and (below) the ever-hungry Courtney Lawes