Ben Foden took a kick in what might be called the "meat and two veg" department during the troublesome tussle with Georgia four days ago, but when the full-back appeared in public yesterday he seemed the picture of serenity – partly, perhaps, because his celebrity girlfriend Una Healy, who sings with The Saturdays, has already fallen pregnant, but most obviously because he believes he will be fit for this weekend's penultimate pool match with Romania. "It's not often I limp off the field at the end of a game but there was a fair bit of physical contact out there with the Georgians," he said, adding that while the damage was not of Wayne Shelford proportions, he was "definitely black and blue".
Shelford, the fearsome New Zealand No 8 who won a World Cup winner's medal at the inaugural tournament in 1987, famously suffered an eye-watering injury during an encounter with France – known thereafter as the "Battle of Nantes" – when a stray boot at a ruck left him with a displaced testicle. Having already lost four teeth into the bargain, he might have been forgiven for calling it quits there and then. Instead, he demanded that his scrotum be stitched up so he could return to the fray. He then copped a fearful smack to the head and was led from the pitch with concussion.
Had Foden taken anything resembling that level of punishment, he would have been packed off home without further ado. As it is, he remains in the red-rose mix as Martin Johnson's first-choice full-back, although an upturn in form would be welcome.
The same might be said for the team, as the 26-year-old Northampton player conceded. "The best way to look at the Georgia performance is as a lesson learned," he said. "We have a structure in place, built around the idea that if we can keep the ball through four or five phases, defenders will tire and holes will appear. Unfortunately, we're forcing things by trying to push an off-load from every half-break we make, even if we're 70 yards out. We have to cut down on the number of stupid passes out of the tackle.
"We're good enough players to know when things are on and when they aren't, but we're too loose. We want to play with freedom and we have that licence from Brian Smith [the attack coach], but we need to maintain our structure at the same time. Let's do the simple things well and reduce the number of penalties we're conceding.
"From here on in, the pressure is only going to increase. None of us want to leave New Zealand thinking 'if only' – I for one want to remember this tournament for the right reasons for the rest of my career – so it's important for us to understand that we won't cut it playing as we did last weekend."Reuse content