Ben Foden: 'England just need to get the right results. We can worry about style later'

The full-back enjoys rave reviews and has a pop-star girlfriend, but, he tells Chris Hewett, reputation means nothing in the Six Nations
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The Independent Online

He scored a blinding try on his first international start, against France in Paris last year, and has since cemented his place in the England team to the acute frustration of his arch-rival Delon Armitage, who would not have beaten him to the full-back role against Wales a week today even if he hadn't been suspended. His club, Northampton, are top seeds in the Heineken Cup knock-out stage and a hot bet to make the semi-finals, at least. In addition, he has landed himself a pop-star girlfriend: Una Healy of The Saturdays. Under the circumstances, Ben Foden could be forgiven for wondering where it all went right.

Reassuringly for England's prospects in the forthcoming Six Nations, the 25-year-old's understanding of where it all might go wrong is extremely well developed. He may be a free-running, broken-field specialist with a sharp turn of pace who loves nothing better than an old-fashioned tear-up in the wide open spaces, but he is acutely aware that the splendour of last November's performance against Australia at Twickenham will count for precisely nothing if he and his colleagues mess up over the next seven weeks.

"Our focus is on winning the championship," he said yesterday during a short break from his preparations in Portugal, where the England squad travelled in search of gentle temperatures, only to find themselves training in one downpour after another. "We'd love to perform the way we performed against the Wallabies, but primarily we want to win. You don't do that unless you play the conditions, the occasion and the opposition in the appropriate way. It doesn't matter to me if we win 6-3 or 29-28. As long as we get the result, we can worry about the style later."

Foden does not come across as one of life's worriers – why would he, given the way things are? – and one of the things he worries about least is Dylan Hartley. Or rather, the state of Dylan Hartley's mind as the trip to Cardiff approaches. The England hooker was singled out for unusually pungent criticism by the Wales coach Warren Gatland at the start of the week and the fall-out was still covering the Six Nations landscape when the tournament was given its official launch on Wednesday. Was there a chance that Hartley, who captains Foden at Northampton, might react the wrong way and hand Gatland his heart's desire on a plate? Apparently not.

"It's part and parcel of rugby, the pre-match wind-up," Foden said, serenely. "Dylan is a strong character. He's a little surprised, but he'll take it on the chin." Hartley is a fiery one, all the same: Gatland is nobody's fool, and he chooses his targets carefully. "I suppose there used to be this idea that you could rub Dylan up the wrong way and make him a bit frantic," the full-back admitted, "but while he's still very physical – he leads from the front, sticking his head in places I wouldn't want to stick mine – he's learnt a lot from the captaincy experience. He's brilliant with us at Northampton. He mixes with the boys, as he always did, but knows when to rein us in. He brings a good balance to what he does."

Foden is a mere 10 caps into his international career and has yet to sample the very particular joys of the Millennium Stadium on Wales-England day – or, in this case, night. He is, however, one of England's more confident individuals, a player who relishes the prospect of performing in front of an audience who, taken as a whole, might be less than supportive of him.

"I'm not one of those who tries to treat the atmosphere as an irrelevance," he said. "We've been told by Martin Johnson [the England manager, whose own memories of playing in Wales are crimson-tinged] that it will be volatile down there, but that's fine by me. You'll always be affected by hostility to a degree, but when you play Premiership and Heineken Cup rugby, you grow used to it. I enjoy that side of it actually. I like being roared on, but I like being roared against, too. I like playing the villain in an 80-minute pantomime."

Media scrum: Rugby's celebrity couples

Ben Foden & Una Healey

The Northampton full-back and The Saturdays singer have been dating since December 2008 after their agents put them in touch.

Gavin Henson & Charlotte Church

The 'Posh and Becks of rugby', Henson and Church, who have two children together, split last year after a five-year relationship.

Geordan Murphy & Lucie Silvas

Singer Silvas and the Leicester and Ireland full-back started dating after being introduced by mutual friends. They reportedly split in 2009 after eight years together.

Mike Phillips & Duffy

The new 'Welsh Posh and Becks' got together in 2008 after the Ospreys scrum-half sent the singer a text.

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