Last Friday morning in Vancouver, Martin Corry was preparing to feed his face with whatever it is professional rugby players eat for breakfast these days probably a disgusting concoction of eight-seed muesli, cold pasta and skimmed isotonic milk when Clive Woodward, the England manager, interrupted him.
"I think you ought to know that the Lions may need you," he informed the Leicester loose forward. "It looks as though you'll be flying to Australia on Sunday." A few minutes later, Woodward was back again. "Forget everything I've just told you," he said. "They need you right now. Pack your bags."
It is fair to say that Woodward was not performing cartwheels as these conversations took place. Corry, a wonderfully consistent contributor to his club's trophy-laden 2000-01 campaign, had been identified by the red rose hierarchy as a key figure in Saturday's second Test with Canada, both as vice-captain and as England's enforcer-in-chief.
Once Donal Lenihan, the Lions manager, insisted from the other side of the world that he wanted Corry on a plane immediately, if not sooner, Woodward felt suitably put-upon. "It's a panic measure by the Lions," he snapped. In other words: "Why the hell couldn't they wait 36 hours."
Woodward was not to know that the Lions had very good reasons for not waiting. Of the three No 8s originally selected for the 10-match adventure in Wallaby country, Scott Quinnell had just played against Western Australia, Lawrence Dallaglio was still putting the final touches to his recovery from a worryingly severe knee condition and Simon Taylor was preparing to be invalided home to Edinburgh after less than a week on tour.
"If Martin had played that game against Canada, he might have injured himself," Lenihan explained yesterday. "At best, he would have arrived here too late to play against the Queensland President's XV."
As it is, Corry will turn out against a useful-looking invitation side at the quaintly named Dairy Farmers' Stadium tomorrow night. He will not be in optimum nick he has, after all, just endured a gruelling flight to northern Queensland via Honolulu, Sydney and Brisbane but the nerve-endings are already a-jitter and he is preparing to play the game of his life.
"As soon as I boarded the plane, I switched my watch to Australian time, took a couple of sleeping pills and got my head down for a decent night's shut-eye," he said. "I'll be fine, I reckon; the adrenalin is pumping already. I got wind of the fact that I might go straight into the midweek side when I got to Brisbane. I asked a journalist to check out the score in Canada, and he came back with the suggestion that I'd been named in the team for Townsville. Once I got that confirmed at the hotel, I was delighted, as you can imagine."
Rather like Gordon Bulloch, the Scotland hooker flown in from holiday in Colorado as cover for the injured Phil Greening, Corry should have been selected in the first place. For a start, he covers four positions: front jumper, middle jumper, blind-side flanker and No 8. But there is more to him than positional flexibility. Corry is a hard-nut, a rough diamond, a merciless invader of rival forwards' space. When the solids hit the air conditioning over the next five weeks and they will hit it hard, not least in the midweek fixtures with Australia A, New South Wales Country and the wildly successful ACT Brumbies his brand of rugby pillage will be worth its weight in stainless steel studs.
Being one of the good eggs of the English game, Corry felt sympathy both for Woodward and for Taylor, who came from the back end of beyond to pinch a place in the initial 37-man party. "We'd had a good week's preparation for the Canada Test, and it can be pretty hard on a management team when their plans are disrupted on the eve of a big match," he said. "As for Simon... well, it's desperate, isn't it? You always feel for guys who pick up injuries on big tours like this. I'll be in touch with him as soon as I get the chance, just to see how he's feeling."
No one will die of shock if Corry applies serious pressure on his élite rivals, Quinnell and Dallaglio. The former turned in a beast of a performance in Perth last Friday, scoring a hat-trick of tries and claiming the man-of-the-match bubbly no wonder Llanelli's finest was playing the roulette table at the local casino yesterday. But Dallaglio is still struggling for fitness, which means that Corry is a single injury away from featuring in some very big games indeed. On the basis of his selfless displays at Premiership and European level last season, few would begrudge him a Test cap to treasure.Reuse content