In the group Heinz com­pletes dream rise to World Cup

Gloucestershire Echo - - GLOUCESTER RUGBY - [email protected]­ Rob ILES

WILLI Heinz ad­mits he is pinch­ing him­self as he pre­pares to play a key role for Eng­land at the World Cup.

As one of just two scrum-halves in the squad, the Glouces­ter star should get plenty of game time in Ja­pan af­ter mak­ing a late charge for se­lec­tion.

New Zealand-born Heinz made his Eng­land de­but at the age of 32 against Wales on Sun­day and his rapid as­cen­sion was ce­mented less than 24 hours later when he was named in the 31-man squad for the show­piece tour­na­ment, which starts next month.

Heinz re­vealed he found out he made the cut when he was added to the squad’s World Cup What­sapp group and sent on a bus to Bris­tol for the of­fi­cial an­nounce­ment.

He said: “You got added to the group for the World Cup and that was a spe­cial mo­ment, then we were on the bus for Bris­tol so that kinda con­firmed we were there so that was a spe­cial mo­ment and a spe­cial 24 hours.

“Then we had a team meet­ing where it was of­fi­cially an­nounced with a video I think that was put out on to so­cial me­dia.

“It was cool to sit there and watch that to­gether - it was a nice touch see­ing old coaches or peo­ple that have been in­volved with the guys’ up­bring­ing and their rugby jour­neys so it was a nice mo­ment for the squad.

“It was al­ways go­ing to be tough as there are a few nines there who aren’t in the squad, so I’m feel­ing for them as well.”

Heinz got his first taste of the Eng­land set-up two years ago when he was called into a train­ing camp in Brighton.

He thought that was it in terms of his in­ter­na­tional chances, but head coach Ed­die Jones got back in touch to­wards the end of last sea­son af­ter some im­pres­sive per­for­mances for a Glouces­ter side that reached the Premier­ship play-offs.

Heinz got the call while on a sum­mer hol­i­day in Croa­tia that he was go­ing to be part of the ex­tended squad.

“I had that lit­tle taste in the camp a

cou­ple of years ago but apart from that, I hadn’t had too much cor­re­spon­dence,” said Heinz.

“I got the mes­sage from Ed­die at the back end of the last Premier­ship sea­son, just say­ing he was watch­ing my progress and to know you were on the radar then was awe­some and that lit a bit of a fire to know that to go out there and play well, then who knows what could hap­pen.

“The last two months have been pretty sur­real - it’s all hap­pened pretty quickly.

“Sun­day was an amaz­ing day and to get in­cluded in the group for the World Cup was a pretty amaz­ing mo­ment.”

Jones has spo­ken highly of the big im­pres­sion Heinz has made in the squad, say­ing he “im­proved his game im­mea­sur­ably” since he first joined up with Eng­land two years ago.

And Heinz ad­mit­ted the feed­back he pre­vi­ously got from Jones stuck with him.

“I think the big thing they were want­ing from me was just to do the ba­sics re­ally well,” said Heinz.

“I know that sounds re­ally sim­ple but talk­ing to a few of the other guys in the squad at in­ter­na­tional level, it’s about

go­ing out there and per­form­ing your job re­ally well un­der a lot of pres­sure.

“Ed­die said to me, ‘you don’t have to be this bril­liant player, you just need to do the ba­sics bril­liantly.’

“It makes you think, ‘okay, let’s strip the game back, not over-com­pli­cate things, get out there and do your ba­sic tasks re­ally well so pass re­ally well, kick re­ally well, or­gan­ise the for­wards with lots of en­ergy and com­mu­ni­ca­tion, all those sorts of things.”

As the only spe­cial­ist cover for Eng­land’s most capped scrum-half Ben Youngs in the World Cup squad, Heinz is aware he might have to take on a lot of re­spon­si­bil­ity in Ja­pan.

He said: “I re­ally have been pinch­ing my­self, it’s all hap­pened so quickly but when you have got a guy like Ben Youngs, I’ve been room­ing with him for the last two or three weeks and he’s won 86 caps, what a per­fect per­son to speak to and learn from.

“He’s so good at shar­ing those ex­pe­ri­ences, what to ex­pect, what to do and what not to do in prepa­ra­tion.”

One man who will not be there is Heinz’s reg­u­lar half-back part­ner at Glouces­ter af­ter Danny Cipri­ani was con­tro­ver­sially left out of the squad.

But Heinz ac­knowl­edged the role Cipri­ani played last sea­son in help­ing im­prove his game.

“I think the qual­ity that Danny brought to Glouces­ter ob­vi­ously helped all of us,” he said.

“There were a num­ber of guys that had re­ally good sea­sons at Glouces­ter and prob­a­bly the de­tail and the con­fi­dence he brought to our at­tack led to us stand­ing out a bit more.

“Danny re­ally helped my game and put a lot of pres­sure on me to de­liver good ball for the team.

“He’s a re­ally good thinker of the game and un­der­stands what it takes to per­form at the high­est level.”

Eng­land still have three warm-up games left against Wales, Ire­land and Italy be­fore fly­ing out to Ja­pan and it is an ex­pe­ri­ence Heinz his look­ing for­ward to hav­ing heard good things from his brother-in-law Tim Bate­man, the Cru­saders cen­tre who has played for Coca-cola Red Sparks and Ri­coh Black Rams.

“My wife loved it over there and my brother-in-law raves about the place as well,” said Heinz.

“It will be an awe­some ex­pe­ri­ence to go out there.”

Pic­ture: PA

Willi Heinz dur­ing his Eng­land de­but against Wales

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