An email conversation with Matt Taig: 'Wales away was a big ask, but I don't regret the experience'

Bouncing back from that difficult debut in Cardiff; Going for gold with England in Melbourne; Learning life lessons from Jonny Wilkinson; The allure of women's beach volleyball
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The Independent Online

You're in Australia for the Commonwealth Games with England's sevens squad. Having a good time, or is it all hard work? It's great being in Australia although the camp is pretty intensive. We are averaging two training sessions a day, including weights. This is my first visit to Australia and I am loving the weather - particularly when it is so cold at home right now!

Do you feel part of the Games? Have you mixed with other athletes, or does it seem like another rugby tournament? Yes it does feel different to a normal IRB Sevens tournament, even though we aren't in Melbourne yet. There is a real excitement about being in Australia for the Games and being selected has been on the back of my mind all season. It was one of my goals to play well in sevens this year, as well as playing well for my club, Newcastle Falcons. I am really looking forward to getting to Melbourne and getting into the athletes' village and mixing with all the other sports people from all the different disciplines.

England are currently second in this season's World Sevens standings. You must have a decent chance of gold. England do have a good chance of a medal in Melbourne, as we are in form this season. However, that counts for nothing when you get to the Commonwealth Games. There are honestly about six teams who could win the gold. New Zealand are probably our biggest rivals, and are the current Commonwealth champions, while we face Australia in the pool stages. They have called a number of senior players into their squad so they will be tough to beat.

Who are England's key players, and which opponents or individuals will provide the biggest threat? England have a strong squad out here, which is a mix of experienced sevens players and youngsters. We have three players who have played in the Games before (Simon Amor, Henry Paul and Ben Gollings) and we also have some youngsters who are extremely quick. Tommy Varndell of Leicester was very impressive in Dubai and we also have the likes of Richard Haughton from Saracens, who is a known finisher.

Sevens is only seven minutes each way, but famously exhausting. Is it harder work than 15-a-side? Sevens is much harder than XVs in terms of fitness, but not in terms of physicality. You do have to be very fit to be able to play international sevens well, and we all do additional fitness training at our clubs. We play on the same size pitch as the XV game but there are obviously only seven players so you have to cover twice as much ground and at a quicker pace. But having said that, I love playing sevens and it gives me a real buzz to have the freedom to run with the ball.

It can't be as hard as your England debut in last year's Six Nations? Wales, away, as an 18-year-old was a big ask. Did it feel that way? At the time I thought I was ready to make my debut and obviously Andy Robinson thought I was ready, too. I don't regret the experience as it taught me a lot.

Wales won and you were dropped for the next game. How do you look back on that day in Cardiff? I look back at it and am proud to have earned a senior cap for England. It is what every player dreams of and I achieved it. It didn't go quite as I hoped but I have learned so much from it that I am glad it happened as it has made me a better player now.

Rob Andrew, your coach at Newcastle, described you at the time as having "amazing confidence". Is that still true? I was confident back then, but am more confident in my ability now. I know what is involved now, and think I am a better player than I was then. I am really enjoying playing rugby right now - both at the Falcons and for the England sevens team - and I think that is shown when I play.

Gavin Henson, your opposite number in that Wales game, also seemed to have great confidence in his ability. His experiences since that day show how things can change. Do you sympathise with him? I don't really have any thoughts on Gavin either way.

What have you made of England's Six Nations games this season? To be honest I have been playing England Sevens for most of England's Six Nations matches so far this season, so I haven't really watched them.

The last England player before you to make his debut aged 18 was Jonny Wilkinson. What influence has he had on your career? Jonny and I play for the same club and I would class him as a very good friend of mine. He is always available if you want to sit and chat about stuff, and gives good advice on all sorts of things. I really enjoy playing alongside him and learn a lot from him. He is just an incredibly nice, down-to-earth bloke.

But would you go training on Christmas Day? Knowing my brother and I it is pretty likely that we would chuck or kick a ball of some kind around on Christmas Day, but I wouldn't physically go out and train. I spend Christmas at home with my family. There are more important things in life than rugby, however important it is to me.

You scored a try on your Newcastle debut. Was it really with your first touch of the ball? Yes, it really was with my first touch, I am proud to say. We were playing London Irish and I was so pleased to be making my debut for the Falcons. I was in the middle of studying for my A Levels at the time so it was all a bit surreal, but it is something I will always remember.

You've named Brian O'Driscoll and Jerry Guscott as your rugby heroes. Who's the real No 1? I would have to say Brian O'Driscoll, as he is so confident and just makes things happen whenever he is on the pitch. It makes him very exciting to watch.

What's playing on your iPod? My iPod is currently broken, so nothing is playing at the moment. However, before that I was listening to Coldplay and Jack Johnson. Probably the most embarrassing thing I had on there was Hanson.

If you could watch just one other event at the Commonwealth Games, which one would it be and why? Am I allowed to say women's beach volleyball? I am not even sure if that's in the Games but I know that me and the other players would like to go and watch it if it is!

You might give the sprinters a run for their money. What's your personal best at 100 metres? I haven't been timed since I was at school, but I guess it would be about 11 seconds flat on a good track.

Are there other sports that you could have pursued to a high level? It would probably have been football. I only played for a local club but at one stage there was talk of having trials for Middlesbrough. I concentrated on rugby and am glad, but I still enjoy kicking a ball around. Away from sport I would love to be able to play a musical instrument.

England's footballers will be trying to repeat rugby's success of 2003 in this summer's World Cup in Germany. Will you be watching and how good are England? Yes, I will watch some of the footie, although I am not a passionate supporter. I think England are good and have a chance but they could do without all the media hype they face.

Away from your rugby, what takes up the bulk of your spare time? At the moment it's probably DIY. I bought a house back in the summer and am spending all my spare time doing it up. I quite enjoy it, and decorating it to suit me.

There is much talk of player burn-out these days. Do you worry about this? Yes, I have to admit that player burn-out does concern me. There are so many matches each season that I think we need to be careful that it doesn't increase any more.

The rower James Cracknell had his medals stolen recently - if you do return home with a gold medal, where will you keep it? If we are lucky enough to win gold then I will definitely keep it somewhere very safe! In fact I am currently doing up a room in my house where I am going to put a couple of signed rugby shirts that I have, so I guess it would go in there. Fingers crossed I will have that dilemma!

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