'The off-field stuff was naive and very much impacted on the performances'

England's former captain Lewis Moody tells Brian Viner he still has World Cup blues

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The Independent Online

Lewis Moody had already been interviewed on BBC Breakfast and the Today programme by the time he emerged into the reception at Television Centre in west London at 9.15am yesterday, and he still had a long day of media engagements ahead of him. England's most-capped flanker is a powerful, resourceful fellow, but he already looked a little weary. Even his paper poppy seemed to be wilting slightly.

Having written an autobiography, Mad Dog: An Englishman, Moody had long understood what his obligations to his publishers would be. What he didn't know was that all the interviews would focus on the 33 pages held back to reflect on the 2011 World Cup.

Of course, he had hoped, before setting off for New Zealand, those last 33 pages would contain more upbeat World Cup tales to go with those from 2003 and 2007. But, as he said with a sigh as the limousine taking him to yet another BBC studio glided along Park Lane, "I can't write fairy tales ... if I could, it would have a different ending."

Off the fieldy, Moody is softly spoken, gentle and courteous, far less Mad Dog than obliging Labrador. So it seemed almost brutal, like smacking a Lab, to sit on the back seat of the car, quizzing him on the embarrassments of England's farcical World Cup campaign, their off-field misdemeanours in the infamous Altitude Bar and elsewhere.

"Everyone has their opinion," he said. "As players it's important to put our hands up to say what happened was naïve. The fact we allowed it to happen was one of the most disappointing things for me, after the amount we'd spoken. As captain I wish I'd stayed out and been able to take those guys away from the situation, or maybe that we'd had an alcohol ban for the tournament."

Would he recommend keeping England's perennially thirsty players off the booze in 2015? "That's for the coach and the captain to work out," he said. Presumably, though, the triumphant 2003 campaign was not exactly dry either? He smiled. "That's the difference between winning and losing. I will never gloss over my disappointment in the off-field naïvety, but had we beaten France and gone on to the semi-final and maybe the final, I'm sure the reaction would have been different. But we deal with reality, and the reality is that we lost in the quarter-final. I do know how committed the players are. But clearly they have to win back some trust."

As we nosed past Buckingham Palace, it seemed like an apt moment to ask about his friend Mike Tindall, whose July wedding to Zara Phillips was attended by Moody and his wife. In Moody's absence, Tindall captained the World Cup team against Argentina, and he could hardly blame inexperience for his late-night excesses. I sensed, reading the book, that Moody had struggled to find the right words to describe Tindall's behaviour. He settled for "a bit naïve" and conceded yesterday that it had been a hard passage to compose.

"All the off-field stuff was naïve, and at times unacceptable." And was it also responsible for England's largely feeble performances? A sigh. "One very much impacted on the other. Without a doubt. The good news is that the vast majority of the squad will still be there in 2015. It's important that they take lessons from this campaign. Johnno [manager Martin Johnson] staying is the key to England becoming a better side. I hope he wants to continue, because I think it's imperative he does."

Mad Dog: An Englishman by Lewis Moody is published by Hodder & Stoughton, priced £20