England's team hotel: A life of luxury

England will be back in familiar surroundings when they get together for this autumn's all-important international series. We sent our man to Pennyhill Park to see what all the fuss is about
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The Independent Online

When England begin preparing for the autumn internationals against the Pacific Islands and the big three from the southern hemisphere, they will do so in the swanky surroundings of Pennyhill Park after committing to the Surrey hotel for the next four years.

After spells at Loughborough University, Bisham Abbey and the University of Bath, England have headed back to the training base they used before securing World Cup glory in 2003.

"Pennyhill ticks all the right boxes," insists England head coach Martin Johnson. "A resurfaced pitch, good size bedrooms and meeting rooms, great training and recovery facilities, including a swimming pool, and it can accommodate the number of players we will have.

"It's also in the right location - near Twickenham for home games and Heathrow and other local airports so we can fly out for away matches easily enough."

It all sounds lovely, but in the interests of fair journalism, IRN felt the need to check it out, so I paid a visit to the luxurious five-star venue, squeezing my tiny IRN-mobile between an impressive array of Porsches and BMWs in the car park.

The first thing that strikes you about Pennyhill Park is the stunning surroundings - set in 123 acres of rolling countryside. The lobby features roaring log fires and the meeting rooms have that British stately home feel about them.

First stop on my tour is the purpose-built training pitch where Johnson will devise the game plan to rip the Aussies apart and trample all over New Zealand. The playing surface is good enough to put many Guinness Premiership outfits to shame and boasts plenty of privacy from prying eyes.

Pennyhill Park's Russell Cox insists: "This is really one of the best pitches in the UK. It is ideal for coaches to be able to walk from the training field back to the hotel. One thing coaches covet is time and it's great for them to have everything based in one location without the worry of travel."

When the hard work on the pitch is completed, England's players will have no shortage of things to keep them entertained as they wile away long afternoons between training and evening meetings.

They can try their hand at clay pigeon shooting, where the words 'cow's backside, hit and banjo' sprung to mind following my dismal effort; archery and golf, although they should beware of the deceiving killer slope on the ninth green that totally ruined an otherwise faultless scorecard.

If that's not enough, they could always dip their toes in the array of pools, Jacuzzis and ice baths in the UK's largest spa. I tested out the Jacuzzi but when I was told swimwear was compulsory, I was forced to scurry to the safety of the changing rooms.

Should Johnson be completely stressed out by England's form this autumn, there are plenty of treatments that can help him unwind. I opted for the scalp massage that targets 21 facial pressure points in a bid to leave you feeling totally relaxed. Given time and IRN budgetary constraints, I opted for a two-minute version which touched two or three pressure points and left me feeling rather stressed, to be honest. I'm sure Johnno is more of a mud pack man anyway!

Before they retire to the luxurious bedrooms that have played host to the likes of Justin Timberlake, Cameron Diaz and 007 himself in Daniel Craig, England's players will fill their faces with high-quality grub provided by head chef David Campbell, who accompanied the team to Australia during the 2003 World Cup.

"It can be quite scary looking after these guys in a high-pressure environment but we just have to make sure they have enough food and the right kind of food," Campbell insists. "Some guys like to keep it really simple and go for good home-cooked food, and there are those who like to be a bit more adventurous in what they eat."

Despite Campbell's worries about keeping England's stars happy and content, I think, judging from my all-too-short time living the life of luxury, that Johnno's men will want for nothing at Pennyhill Park.

This story was sourced from International Rugby News

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