We left on Wednesday, arrived in South Africa on Thursday and did some light training on Friday. On Saturday, we had the official opening lunch in Cape Town and it was a fiasco. We had to leave at 7am and got back to Durban at 8pm - just to have lunch. The Welsh and the Japanese had it even worse. They'd been up at 5am at Bloemfontein in order to fly down to pick up us and the Argentines.
There was quite a lot of socialising at the lunch, though the All Blacks kept themselves to themselves. Victor [Ubogu] went down a storm with the Ivory Coast boys, even though he barely speaks a word of French. They all had their photographs taken with him.
Back in Durban, the beaches were quite empty so we spent a fair bit of time there. A few of us went boogie-boarding, but Martin Johnson got swept out to sea and a lifeguard came steaming in to rescue him. He got a lot of stick for that.
SERIOUS training began quite poorly, as we weren't hitting what Jack Rowell calls our "rhythms". It seemed we were a bit tense. The team was announced on Monday and most of us knew the Five Nations side would probably start. Prior to that, we'd all mixed and matched in training, but from then on, the first team played together much more and the other 11 of us formed the opposition.
On Thursday, we did some light training in the morning and then, on a big screen at the hotel, watched the South Africa v Australia game. What a match - it completely shook everyone into realising it was going to be one hell of a tournament. It was good for us, as we'd been training almost non-stop and suddenly we had our first glimpse of what we were here for.
After 10 long days, our game against Argentina finally came round. We'd waited so long and it was a big shock to play so poorly. We won 24-18 but we could have lost it. I came on as a replacement in the last minute - during which time they scored a try. One of the reasons we played so badly was because there was so long between our arriving and playing. It is very boring at times; all you seem to do is go from meal to training to bed.
THE first few days in Durban were fairly low key but as soon as the games had started there were supporters and press everywhere. It was impossible to escape. We have a word for certain supporters - "nauses", the bores who want to talk rugby and won't leave you alone. A few of us carry yellow and red cards which have occasionally been shown to them when it gets too much. Even my own room often didn't provide a haven as I was next door to Tony Underwood, who is learning the saxophone. Learning is the operative word, although he's coming on a treat and has just about mastered "God Save the Queen".
The night after the Argentina game, Jack gave us a big roasting, something he's pretty good at. He's very forceful and, in front of everyone else, he'll pick up on people who have made mistakes. He also tests people mentally - Richard West got a hard time when he came into the squad - and he and Deano [Rich-ards] always have a good battle.
On the way back from training on Monday, Deano suggested a trip to the shark nets, he said that they pull in between five and 55 sharks a morning. I don't know where he got that figure from because about 10 of them went out at 5am the next morning and they saw absolutely nothing. If he sets up a company, "Deano's Tours", make sure you don't go with it.
On the Monday night the team to play Italy had been announced; I was delighted to be picked as I might have come here and not had a single game. After all the training, the hours of running round the track, it was down to this. I was nervous, more so than for a Five Nations game. The game went OK. I thought I did myself reasonable justice - we beat Italy 27-20 - but we still didn't get any of the rhythms that were now coming in training.
We were a little happier but still knew we had a lot to do. The problem again was that we were too uptight. We needed to relax. So, two days later, we went paint-balling. It was the first recreational thing we'd done as a squad and it was just what we needed. We played backs against forwards, but although the rules were explained to us, they went out the window immediately. It was complete carnage. Grown men were crawling around, ambushing people, and everyone loved it. It really did hurt when you got hit, and Steve Ojomoh took some serious hits, and Graham Dawe took a few because he was playing Rambo and decided to take us all on single-handed. Myself, Mike Catt and Ian Hunter had Ben Clarke pinned down behind a cactus bush; he couldn't get away and was squealing like a pig.
THE game against Western Samoa was such a relief. At last we played some decent rugby and won 44-22. I got quite a few opportunities and I thought I did quite well. I certainly thought I'd put myself in the frame for future selection. One of the biggest things about the match was blooding the three new caps - West, John Mallett and Damian Hopley. We were all delighted for them. Possibly more memorable, though, was when Kyran Bracken and Brian Moore came on as replacements and had to play in the back row. There was one golden moment when Kyran was marking Pat Lam, the No 8, and came steaming in to tackle him. He hit Lam really hard, but his head ricocheted back and he flew backwards at a rate of knots. We have watched it again and again on the video. It's hysterical.
On Monday afternoon, we got to Johannesburg, which is nowhere near as attractive as Durban. Thankfully, we had only three days here; we went paint-balling again and played some golf. The team for the quarter-final against Australia was announced on Wednesday. Jack had said that the team would be picked on form. Because of that, I knew that I had a chance of coming in and taking Jerry Guscott's place. When a team is chosen, Jack normally tells people personally if they have been dropped, but on this occasion he just read out the team and said that there were some people who had come very close. Unfortunately, I was one of them. To be on the bench was a great disappointment. Coping with not playing can be a nightmare: you go through all the preparation and the build-up with everyone else, and then you get to the game and there's no release. The players who have been on the bench before know what it's like and try to make you feel a part of the team - Dewi [Morris] is superb at this - but it is always difficult because you can never feel a real part of the ultimate success. Still, I tried to put these thoughts at the back of my mind.
I and the others who weren't selected formed an opposition team based on the Aussies and in training tried to pose the problems that the Australians would on Sunday. I was Tim Horan for a few days and Damian Hopley was Jason Little. We did the accents as well but I think we were better at copying their rugby. On Friday we went down to Cape Town and it was clear that something special was brewing.
ON THE morning of the game, Jack showed us a video. It had been sent by the England cricket team, saying that they were watching the rugby and wishing us all the best. That was a nice touch, as were all the good luck faxes sent from England that were plastered round the walls of our team room.
The game itself was just incredible. With 10 minutes to go and England three points down, I couldn't watch it and Steve Ojomoh and I went to lay down outside the changing-room. Every time there was a cheer, we jumped up to have a look at the TV monitor; first Rob levelled the scores, and a few minutes later there was the most almighty noise. We leapt up and saw the drop goal. We went to the tunnel to congratulate the players when they came through. They looked absolutely drained, but the sense of elation . . . I've never seen the changing-room like it.
Not surprisingly, we had a very good night out. From the previous Monday, there had been an alcohol ban, so John Mallett and I celebrated its end with a few glasses of wine too many. Later, we were in the Cape Town Sports Cafe, which was swarming with England supporters, a sea of white shirts. Martin Bayfield got up and sung some songs and there were speeches by Catty and Dewi. The barmy army went crazy.
The following day, we went to Sun City which was complete relaxation. In the casino, Catty lost a lot, Ben and Damian each won a fortune and Victor lost his life savings one night and then won them back the next. We were back in Johannesburg on Wednesday and that night Jack had a clearing of the air, and by making a few pointed remarks about some things that had gone wrong against Australia, gave us all a shake-up.
The following day, the team for the semi-final against the All Blacks was announced. I hadn't really held up much hope and so switched into the role of Walter Little to prepare the others for another huge game. We are now on the edge of something famous. I've only ever felt like this once before, when England beat New Zealand in 1993 and it seemed the whole country had been watching and supporting. Even this far away, we know it is like that again back home. God knows what it will be like if we reach the final.Reuse content