England will spend the first three weeks of next month's World Cup in Dunedin, the home of old-fashioned rucking (now illegal), the Carisbrook "House of Pain" (now replaced by a spanking new stadium, complete with roof) and... not much else, according to popular opinion. Those players left wondering how they might survive a long south-island September without a drink were therefore thankful for Martin Johnson's assurance that alcohol would not be banned, or even particularly frowned upon, during the big tournament.
"I don't want to get too petty about things," the manager said as he prepared to head for Heathrow with 29 of his 30 squad members, the exception being the veteran lock Simon Shaw (right), who fell victim to an outbreak of "Dublin belly" after Saturday's warm-up victory over Ireland and postponed his flight for 24 hours or so. "No, there'll be no alcohol ban, and I'm not one to impose travel restrictions either. I'm quite happy for the wives and girlfriends, all of whom are very sensible and supportive, to come out when they choose. As part of the switching-off process, it's the best thing you can have as a player.
"We're dealing with blokes, with adults. It was like that when I started playing rugby at a senior level and it's no different just because the game is now professional. Things are far more organised these days, but it's still down to players to make sensible decisions. I trust them to do that. If it turns out that I can't trust them, there'll be a simple decision for me to make."
Johnson was supported every step of the way by his captain, Lewis Moody. "We've spoken about it as a group and I've said my piece," commented the Bath flanker, who is still undergoing intensive treatment on his troublesome right knee but insists he is on track to train fully ahead of the opening pool match with Argentina in 12 days' time. "I won't dwell on the inner workings of the squad, but we're a highly professional group and very dedicated to each other. At the end of the day, we're all adults. "
By the time the party has shaken off its collective jet lag, those carrying minor injuries – Mark Cueto and Mike Tindall among the backs, Tom Wood and Nick Easter among the forwards – can resume their preparations.Reuse content