The last competitive game you played - the Guinness Premiership Grand Final against Leicester at Twickenham in May - was unquestionably a triumph, both for Sale as a team and for you as an outside-half. The celebrations must have ended by now, but is the warm glow of satisfaction still there? Yes, the sense of satisfaction remains, but at the same time we are very aware of the importance of ensuring that it does not go down as a one-off. Actually, I'm quite apprehensive about the new season because we'll be going into it as champions, and that's new territory for us. There again, I'm always apprehensive about a new season - it's just the way I am. One thing's for sure: I won't forget that match at Twickenham in a hurry. We celebrated in London afterwards, then headed north the following morning. The French boys painted their faces with marker pens, then realised they were scheduled to meet the supporters. They didn't look their best, to put it mildly.
You've been a high-priority transfer target for bigger hitters than Sale in recent seasons. Does one championship victory establish the club as a genuine power in the land, like Leicester, or is there still a way to go? Do you see yourself as a one-club man? We still have more to do in this respect, definitely. There is no value in winning one trophy, then forgetting about it and allowing the rugby public to forget about us as a result. We want to win the Premiership again, and we want to improve on our performances in Europe. Leicester and Wasps have both proved it is possible to dominate for three or four years, and we're looking to do the same. As for my personal position, I don't envisage leaving Sale. That's not to say I'd rule it out. Never say never, and all that. But the owner, Brian Kennedy, is keener than any of us to make something of this club, to be successful in the long term. And he's the really important one.
Philippe Saint-André has worked wonders at the club since arriving as director of rugby in 2004. He must be one hell of a communicator, given that he speaks purest "Franglais". Do you understand him 100 per cent, or is it more a case of your French being better than his English? Understand him? I can't say it was easy at first, but we communicate very well now. If there's a problem, we can always ask our forwards coach, Kingsley Jones, for a translation. He's Welsh, by the way.
How is the body these days? By sitting out England's summer trip to Australia you guaranteed yourself a full pre-season's preparation. How important will that be in World Cup year? The break has been brilliant, mentally and physically. I reported back for training on 10 July, so the break was something like four and a half weeks - time enough to savour winning the title, wallow in things a little, and then forget about rugby completely. I relaxed, drew a deep breath and then clocked in for a month of hard conditioning work. I think it will pay dividends, especially in World Cup year. Certainly, I feel extremely fit right now.
Speaking of the World Cup, a good proportion of England supporters are struggling to see how the trophy can possibly be defended. At 12 months' distance, how do you read the tea leaves? It's obvious that people will have their doubts, especially after the run of results we've had with England. But we have some seriously talented players in the squad, and if we can just come up with the right balance and stick with it, we'll be in a position to give it our best shot. Consistency is the key. The more chopping and changing we have, the more difficult it is for the players to build the necessary relationships. The longer we stay together as a team, the better we'll be.
One last question on the England front. You've always said you relish fighting for your international shirt. The World Cup is 12 months away; things are about to get serious. Are you up for whatever selection battles lie ahead? Let's put it this way: the risk of a player not playing to his potential is far greater when no one is pressing him for his place. Wherever you are in the team, and whoever you're up against, competition is healthy. In fact, it's an absolute necessity.
In percentage terms, how much better will Sale have to be to retain the Premiership title? Is it possible for the club to fight on two fronts - to push hard domestically while mounting a serious campaign in Europe? I wouldn't like to put a percentage on it, but we'll have to be a whole lot better than last season, when we really didn't play well at times. We were fortunate to get a good start and we finished strongly. That did the trick. This time it will be harder, especially if we throw everything at the Heineken Cup. It's possible to fight on two fronts - Leicester and Wasps both won the European title in domestic championship seasons - but I'm the first to understand the scale of the challenge.
You've been drawn in the same Heineken Cup group as Stade Français, one of the wealthiest French clubs. Do you yearn for a free market in English rugby, or do you consider the salary cap to be a vital cog in the success of the Premiership? People say Stade Français have a playing budget of up to five times as much as we spend under the salary cap. It tells a story, doesn't it? There again, English clubs have made a reasonable fist of the Heineken Cup down the years. In my opinion, the more English-born players appearing in the Premiership, the better. I know the supporters like to watch the big-name overseas signings, but I believe it's vital that we continue developing home-grown talent. The salary cap plays a part in that, and is therefore very important. Having said that, it's always interesting when you come up against a French side with money to burn.
Spill the beans. Is Andrew Sheridan really that strong? Is Sébastien Chabal that crazy? Yes and yes. I was doing some weights next to Andy last week and when I looked across at him I couldn't help thinking, "Christ, what a monster." He really is abnormally powerful, and when you consider that he's bound to improve technically as a scrummager, he's going to be something else. And Sébastien? When he's screaming blue murder at you in the dressing-room before kick-off, you have no choice but to listen. The trick is to let him get it off his chest and then run like hell for the door, in the hope that you're well out of his way by the time you reach the pitch. I think that's why I've sharpened my pace over the last couple of seasons. It's a question of survival.Reuse content