Meeting Ben Foden over a coffee in London's Theatreland was not to encounter a fish out of water. As the squeeze of the singer Una Healy, from The Saturdays, the Northampton and England full-back is accustomed to the bright lights. "Elton John had a Christmas party not far from here," said Foden. "That was a pretty cool one to go to."
Foden and Healy are expecting a first child on 21 March. Foden has allowed himself to imagine England winning the Six Nations title against his partner's native Ireland at Twickenham four days beforehand. That'll be St Patrick's Day, then – a Saturday and a half, to be sure.
England's 36 players, including Foden, now in Leeds to build up to Scotland on 4 February, include a new captain (probably Harlequins' Chris Robshaw), the customary crocks and an unusually large number of new caps. Fifteen players, including Jonny Wilkinson, have gone by the board.
"It will be interesting," said Foden. "Especially for players like me, who a year ago were the fresh faces. Now I think I'm the most capped back-three player and I'm going to have to take more of a leadership role." Is he captaincy material? "If I'm being brutally honest, I fit into that leadership role but not really as a captain. I'm very laid-back and lethargic in the way I approach games, I don't get wound up. The leader for me is a guy who's banging his head against a wall. I'm a bit more relaxed."
A shake-up of the management since the World Cup failure in the autumn has removed Martin Johnson and his staff in favour of a temporary trio of Stuart Lancaster, Graham Rowntree and Andy Farrell. Did Foden, a form player last season – Northampton reached the Heineken Cup final but lost to Leinster; England won the Six Nations but were well beaten for the Grand Slam in Dublin – feel the World Cup passed him by?
"I look at it differently," he said. "England performed disappointingly, especially in that last game [against France]. Everyone took the field wanting to win. It's just that we got things wrong, in tactics, split decisions, individual errors. There was a try by Vincent Clerc and I'm the first one to say that was primarily my fault. If I'd have made that tackle on him instead of drifting off, the whole game could have changed."
He does not accept, that a video diary showing him in the back seat of an old banger, larking around with James Haskell, Dylan Hartley and Chris Ashton, was a silly idea. "Things like that aren't going to win or lose you Test matches. It's time to move on, you can't change the past and we've all learnt from it. We need to make sure the same mistakes aren't made."
Foden admires The Saturdays' hard work. Una is in the studio, recording, at six and a half months pregnant. "To come home and see Una – she's been superb through the whole thing. She's been an angel."
Foden "knows very little" of Andy Farrell, who will guide England's backs and attack. There may be two Saracens debutants – Owen Farrell (Andy's son) and Brad Barritt – playing in front of him. "A lot of people say rugby league [where Farrell Snr made his name] is more exciting and expansive than union," he said. "So hopefully he'll be able to help us. Stuart wants to create a team fans want to watch, that will be expansive and score tries. But I know for a fact that everyone involved will say, 'First and foremost, we want to win'."
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