Gloucester-supporting troglodytes in the Kingsholm Shed have long taken sardonic pleasure in arranging transport for visiting full-backs who find themselves in difficulty, but when the massed ranks of the Cherry and White chorus were heard singing "taxi for Mr Foden" during last week's Premiership victory over Northampton, there was a sharper edge than usual to their humour.
Ben Foden, the England No 15, had recently spent a night in the cells on suspicion of causing criminal damage to a London cab, and was therefore a sitting duck for the West Country's most boisterous audience.
"There was plenty of the taxi stuff flying around," Foden admitted yesterday after training ahead of this weekend's Heineken Cup semi-final meeting with Perpignan in Milton Keynes. "Look, I allowed myself to be caught up in something that had nothing to do with rugby, and I can assure you it won't happen again. It was a situation I could easily have avoided, but I didn't avoid it. I regret it, deeply. I had apologies to make to certain people, and I've made them. Now, I just want to forget about it."
Foden accepted a police caution by way of drawing a line under the incident, and after discussions with the England manager Martin Johnson, he is fully aware of the importance of staying on the straight and narrow. "I suppose when you're in the England side and you're in the limelight, there are more people out there looking to get you," he said. "Martin had a high profile when he was playing international rugby and captaining his country. He told me that I have to keep my nose clean, and that's what I intend to do. I'm not the perfect man and things can happen, but I know now that I have to be more careful."
According to Foden's clubmates, the lesson-learning has not been restricted to individuals. "We were all taught a lesson when we went to Munster in the Heineken Cup quarter-finals last year and we've taken it on board," said Dylan Hartley, the England hooker who has made such a tremendous fist of leading the Midlanders this term. "We believe now that we can beat any side in Europe if we get things right and now we're at the stage of the season where the really big games kick in, we fully understand what we need to do. The players won't need much motivating from me come Sunday. They know we could be in 'season over' territory if we lose a couple of games over the next three weeks, and as none of us want to go on holiday just yet, we have to win."
With the in-form flanker Tom Wood, another of Northampton's international brigade, suffering from a leg injury that could take six weeks to heal, last summer's recruit from Leeds, the hard-nut back-rower Calum Clark, is expected to join Phil Dowson and Roger Wilson in a reshaped loose combination.Reuse content