An email conversation with Mike Tindall: 'I want more caps and I want to play in another World Cup'

Managing Six Nations expectations; Nurturing Gloucester's glorious youth; Leaving behind the beloved lucky pants
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The Independent Online

Congratulations on your return to the England rugby union squad. This is a year of anticipation for both club and country, but you have had your share of injury hassles just lately. How is the body bearing up? The body's good, thanks. The last two years before I left Bath I was plagued with injuries, so last year was about getting a consistent run of games under my belt, which I managed to do. My form was a little indifferent, but I was happy to be back playing week in, week out. It was a frustrating start to this year, missing the first seven games with a calf tear, but we put in a lot of work in the pre-season and I've played the last 10 games on the bounce and I feel really good.

It is difficult to imagine a more important Six Nations Championship for England, given the nosedive in results and the proximity of the World Cup. In all honesty, what do you consider to be reasonable expectations for the next few weeks? It has been a tough time recently but I still expect us to be competing for the trophy; we have too many good players not to. It's not going to be easy for the players or coaches, but it is important that we get some wins under our belt.

Without being ageist about it, you are very much a senior player - especially given the presence of Toby Flood, Shane Geraghty and Mathew Tait in the midfield. Do you thrive on such extra responsibility, a burden that will be heavier than usual in a World Cup year? I know I'm not the oldest player - at least Catty (Mike Catt) is still there to make me feel young. I'm 28, which is not that old! I've got a few years left in me yet. In terms of the senior player role, that is something you expect because of what has happened in the past and what I have experienced. But I wouldn't call it a burden.

You know Brian Ashton, the new England head coach, of old. Give us an insight into what he brings to the party. Brian is a brilliant thinker, he knows rugby is a simple game and understands how to get the best out of all his players. He understands that good set pieces are the best attack platforms, so from a back's point of view he's good at getting us to understand where we are best used so we are a threat to defensive line.

Though you were not fit to face New Zealand at Twickenham in November, you must have cast a keen eye over proceedings. Are the overwhelming favourites for the World Cup really as good as they look? If so, why? They are outstanding at the moment and are definitely going to be the team to beat come September in France. They are in a great situation where they have a pool of about 30 to 40 players whom they are happy to play in big internationals and that is a unique position. They play a well-balanced game and are, without a doubt, the best in the world in each area to make up that game, from kicking to counter attack.

We are hearing an awful lot about player burnout. Is the current structure sustainable, or is the game asking too much of its finest practitioners? There are a lot of games throughout the year but clubs are now realising that, if they are going to be successful in the Guinness Premiership and other competitions, squad numbers have to be greater to allow for rotation. This will allow players to be rested so they stay healthy and hungry.

How about life at Gloucester? We know you have a brilliant batch of new backs, including Ryan Lamb, Anthony Allen and Jack Adams. Do they do as they are told, these bright young things, or do they have plenty to say for themselves? I love it at Gloucester. It been a great move with us winning the European Challenge Cup last year, and the style of rugby we were playing towards the end of last year made me excited about this year, as it is a year of anticipation for club and country. The squad that we have at the moment has the potential and ability to become one of the top sides in Europe, but potential and ability don't win anything so we have got to put in the hard graft and earn it. When it comes to the new batch, they are all good players and have a great future ahead of them. Their enthusiasm for playing and training is motivation for us old dogs and, hopefully, we can return the favour by trying to share our experiences to help them understand what is expected of them and how they can improve their game. It is good to see Gloucester talent coming through and playing for Gloucester.

Have you changed your habits since the World Cup victory in 2003, or are you the same Mike Tindall? Did you have any pre-match rituals back then? Do you stick to them now? I found out recently that Guinness has done research into sporting rituals and found that rugby players have the most rituals of all. I did used to have a few, like I always had to change in the far left-hand side of the changing room, which came from when I first played for England. I also used to have some lucky pants, but after a while I realised that was not a good one to hold on to. I also always had to go out last from the changing rooms - apart from when I played with Will Greenwood, who had more rituals than I have paper to write on. Recently I have tried to cut down on rituals because you can get carried away, but I do still leave the changing rooms last.

The nation knows that your significant other, Zara Phillips, won the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award for her outstanding achievements in the eventing world. Being the competitive soul you are, you must be determined to match her as best you can... Her achievements have been outstanding and she has deserved them all. From my point of view I still have a lot of things I want to achieve: I still haven't won the Guinness Premiership, I still want more England caps and I want to play in another World Cup. But it all comes on the back of good performances for Gloucester, so we'll start there and see how it goes.

OK, the million-dollar question. Can we dare hope for another open-top bus tour of London come the autumn? I don't think that I could promise an open-top bus ride at the moment unless I booked it myself, but if we can make improvements in the Six Nations and find a solid group of players that we can move forward with, then who knows? Hopefully, we will have a good summer pre-World Cup camp and then we'll see what happens. I do believe that we have the players to challenge for the World Cup, but it is going to be about how we can gel as a squad and then if we can take that to France. We will have to wait and see...