Will Green­wood

Four years of wait­ing are al­most over and the ten­sion for fans and play­ers alike is reach­ing fever pitch. Get ready for the great­est fes­ti­val of rugby the world has ever seen

The Daily Telegraph - Rugby World Cup - - Contents - WILL GREEN­WOOD

The 2003 World Cup win­ner on why the coun­try should pre­pare it­self for an un­matched fes­ti­val of rugby – and what it takes to lift the great­est prize of all

At the Rugby World Cup, on the sport’s big­gest stage, it is easy to get dis­tracted by the sheer size of the tour­na­ment. The ten­sion and ex­cite­ment builds to the open­ing cer­e­mony, with play­ers and fans itch­ing to get go­ing. Once the first kick-off whis­tle is blown, the four years of wait­ing is trans­lated into a six-week, jam-packed rugby sched­ule. Pool matches pit the world’s best against one another as well as the up-and-com­ing teams, the smaller na­tions and the big­gest of hearts. When you are not play­ing, you are watch­ing as many games as you can, drink­ing in the at­mos­phere and lov­ing ev­ery minute. It is as close to rugby par­adise as you can get.

The key is to get out of the blocks quickly and get a good game un­der your belt. That way, ev­ery­one can breathe. You can­not re­lax, not at a World Cup, but at least you can sleep a lit­tle eas­ier. In 2003, in Perth, we had South Africa in the pool stages. Af­ter the 53-3 vic­tory at Twick­en­ham in 2002, Corne Krige had said “we will get you in Perth”. It had been like a war zone at Twick­en­ham.

The sto­ries of their bru­tal train­ing camp had sur­faced in the press, sto­ries of tackle bags with Eng­land jer­seys stitched into them. We knew what was com­ing in Perth — and it was some­what wor­ry­ing. South Africans are the most phys­i­cal play­ers on the planet, so trep­i­da­tion about the enor­mity of the game never eased. Luck­ily, we had Ge­or­gia to play as our first op­po­nents, giv­ing the team a chance to work hard, do the ba­sics right and get a win on the board. For Eng­land in 2015, it will be Fiji first up and that is a real test. On the tour­na­ment’s open­ing night, in the tough­est group in the com­pe­ti­tion (which also con­tains Wales, Aus­tralia and Uruguay), Eng­land’s game against Fiji could go a long way to de­cid­ing whether or not the hosts have a suc­cess­ful tour­na­ment.

Eng­land could end up play­ing well against both Wales and Aus­tralia and still lose a match. Very eas­ily. In the end, af­ter all that plan­ning, get­ting out of the pool stages could come down to points dif­fer­ence. And when that has hap­pened in the last two Six Na­tions, it has hurt Eng­land. So, against Fiji, Eng­land will have to win and win well — it will not sim­ply be an ex­er­cise in points ac­cu­mu­la­tion. And there is the co­nun­drum: the big pic­ture ver­sus the small fact.

Play­ers at the World Cup, as they live and breathe the great­est rugby fes­ti­val on earth, must com­pletely for­get about lift­ing the tro­phy. They can­not think about a fi­nal, they can­not dream about be­ing win­ners. In­stead, they must break this mighty goal down into achiev­able ob­jec­tives. Eng­land’s No 1 ob­jec­tive is to win the first half against Fiji. They must force Fiji to chase the game and then, if the chance comes, they must score the points. Only then will Twick­en­ham truly spring to life, and when it does, it will be like noth­ing that has ever been heard in a rugby sta­dium in this coun­try be­fore.

The Rugby World Cup is now the ab­so­lute pin­na­cle of our sport. There is noth­ing greater. Colour, pas­sion, in­clu­siv­ity, at­mos­phere: it has it all. Sport brings peo­ple to­gether like noth­ing else on the planet, and rugby does it bet­ter than any other. We are a com­mu­nity that prides it­self on our abil­ity to knock lumps out of each other and then heal the pain with kind words and fair ac­tions. We like a drink and a laugh, and some great food. We love the game, sim­ple as that, and the World Cup is our big­gest get to­gether.

Since its in­cep­tion in 1987, the Rugby

Play­ers must for­get about lift­ing the tro­phy, they can­not dream about the fi­nal or be­ing win­ners

World Cup has com­pletely changed the fo­cus of fans and in­ter­na­tional teams and coaches. The only thing that can now de­fine you as a great team is win­ning the Rugby World Cup. For ath­letes, it is the same with the Olympics, for foot­ballers the World Cup. The four-year cy­cle now dom­i­nates.

Two years out, the big in­ter­na­tion­als still mat­ter. Sup­port­ers, fans, com­mit­tee mem­bers still make huge noise for the mar­quee games. But the World Cup? That comes with brag­ging rights for a long time.

That is why sac­ri­fices are made for the col­lec­tive, why older play­ers are now re­tired when they could of­ten still go on, why young­sters are blooded and brought through. We un­der­stand why it hap­pens, the goal is clear, yet so are the ex­pec­ta­tions, and for the play­ers to­day, the pres­sure must be in­tense.

The scru­tiny Eng­land’s team will face at home will be evis­cer­at­ing. But now is not the time for them to sec­ond guess, to fret about pos­si­ble per­mu­ta­tions in the knock­out stages. It is too late to worry about the ex­tra pizza they had on hol­i­day or the sneaky beer. Trust your body, trust your­self and know that it is bet­ter at this point to be happy and ready to re­act, rather than wor­ried about your body mass in­dex.

This coiled re­lax­ation will be even more im­por­tant should a side get out of the pool stages. Af­ter the chaos of 40 games in the first 23 days, the pace shifts and there are eight games in the last 19 days. With this comes a dra­matic change in fo­cus. If the boys of 2015 can learn any­thing from us in 2003, then the knock-out stages are where train­ing has to be­gin to ta­per.

We over­trained ahead of the Wales quar­ter-fi­nal, and it al­most cost us. For sec­tions of that game in Bris­bane we were out on our feet. Fol­low­ing that, for the last two weeks of the tour­na­ment, we did al­most noth­ing: light run outs, min­i­mal con­tact, just tackle tech­nique, eat and sleep.

You can­not rein­vent the wheel or style of play. Tweak yes, but do not chase it. Play­ers who get fur­ther into the com­pe­ti­tion will ex­pe­ri­ence a ratch­et­ing up of pres­sure and will need a calm re­lax­ing place to spend their time.

The crowds at hotels and at grounds will be crazy. If Jonny Wilkin­son had to wear a dis­guise in Manly, imag­ine what it will be like for the guys this time round. Some will like it, some hate it. What they can­not do is fight it. If you are a James Haskell and love the en­ergy of peo­ple and a crowd then do that. If you are a Tom Wood and much qui­eter, then find your space.

Be con­fi­dent about who you are. It does not mat­ter, just do what you do to be right at game time ev­ery week. Luck­ily, no one size fits all and this un­der­stand­ing of play­ers’ needs will be cru­cial, both out­side and in­side of the squad. Those not in the match-day squad have huge roles to play. When three days be­fore the fi­nal the flip-chart pages were turned back on Nov 19 2003 in the ho­tel meet­ing room in Manly, there were 15 play­ers in the start­ing line-up.

I was one of the lucky ones. The first per­son to shake my hand was Mike Catt, the man I had fought tooth and nail for three years for the start­ing jer­sey. “Shaggy, any­thing you need in the next 72 hours, call me, any­time,” he said.

It has to be this way. The abil­ity of the squad to un­der­stand that it is 31 play­ers who win the World Cup not 15 is the most im­por­tant com­po­nent. It sets the at­mos­phere, and cre­ates the team. In train­ing, the non-start­ing play­ers have to re­spect se­lec­tion, not go around try­ing to maim play­ers picked in or­der to get them­selves se­lected.

Play­ers must un­der­stand the type of ses­sion be­ing run and adapt men­tally and phys­i­cally to make sure those tak­ing the field on the day of the match get the best value out of a train­ing ses­sion. It is about the group, and at a World Cup this men­tal­ity trans­lates into the stands. The fans and play­ers are joined to­gether for the tour­na­ment, their hopes and dreams aligned more closely than at any other time in the rugby cal­en­dar.

For the play­ers, it will take com­po­sure, in­ten­sity, smiles, bel­liger­ence, men­tal strength, ex­e­cu­tion, trust, dis­ci­pline, con­fi­dence and lead­er­ship to win a World Cup. For the fans, there is lit­tle they can do other than en­joy the wild emo­tional roller­coaster. But the mag­i­cal thing about the Rugby World Cup is that if one suc­ceeds, then we all suc­ceed.

The crowds at hotels and at grounds will be crazy. If Jonny had to wear a dis­guise in Manly, imag­ine what it will be like this time

Golden gen­er­a­tion: Jonny Wilkin­son lands the drop goal that won the World Cup in 2003 and (be­low) Will Green­wood in ac­tion dur­ing the quar­ter-fi­nal against Wales

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