Fired up and focused on job in hand

In his first article for the Independent, the England wing underlines E ngland's readiness for the challenge of the Five Nations
Click to follow
The Independent Online
A lot has been said recently about the merits of the Five Nations during World Cup year. Going into this first game against Ireland in Dublin, it takes just one look around the meeting room to fathom that one out. The intensity is so heavy in the air youcan taste it. Not even the renowned jocular skills of manager Jack Rowell can completely break the spell. The players better than anybody else know the importance of this game.

It is continually drummed into us. This is different, nothing can prepare you for what you are about to experience, not even if you have played in Dublin before.

This is the magic of the Five Nations, the mystique that can turn the formbook on its head. A succession of much-fancied Grand Slam contenders have fallen by the wayside, humbled by a mixture of collective will and an unbridled passion. Which is precisely why we relish this opportunity.

If we are to entertain any hope of progressing into the final stages of the World Cup, then, as a side, we must be able to withstand the pressures and peculiarites of the Five Nations, with all the ability, composure and tactical know-how latent in this squad.

Fairly obvious, you may say, and surely exactly what previous title challengers would have attempted. What makes this occasion different from all the others?

Preparation. Countless training sessions since September have enabled the coaching team and players to come together, to develop something approaching a club atmosphere. This has led to a better understanding among a squad of players gathered from aroundthe league, and a coaching staff brimming with new ideas, not the least of which are drills and techniques borrowed from the rugby league manuals. It is no snub to Geoff Cooke, but Jack Rowell's elevation has definitely given a kick up the proverbial toevery man jack of us. Training sessions and meetings are much more focused occasions, and consequently players' minds are less likely to wander.

These factors combined have enabled us to piece together a more dynamic approach to our rugby. Now before you lick your lips in anticipation of seeing a ball whizzing around, a la Wasps, I must stress that this is not necessarily going to be the case.

Dynamism is more a state of mind. Previously we have, perhaps, been guilty of taking to the field stuck on playing to a single gameplan. What Jack Rowell is looking for is rather a more flexible strategy whereby should Plan A fail, then we have the mental and physical capacity to change to Plan B, and so on.

What this does require is an altogether greater contribution from all involved so that from 1 to 15 we all have a role to play, whether we are taking the ball up through the forwards, the backs or through a combination of them both. If all 15 play these roles as expected then our decision-makers are left free to use the complete armoury at their disposal.

All this counts for nothing, however, if we cannot exert the necessary control. This Irish side differs from recent ones in that there is, undeniably, a great deal more creativity and strike power at their disposal. However, chaos is manna from heaven tothem, and something from which they will gain the most. So that is the greatest test before us. Maintain our composure to take a grip of the game such that we can stifle the crowd, and I fancy our chances.

Perhaps then we can spare a thought for that competition in South Africa.