Rugby World Cup 2015: We've gone through hell – but that's how it has to be with the tournament looming

I caught up with Mike Phillips the other day and he has taken his World Cup omission well

Click to follow
The Independent Online

For eight or nine weeks, we’ve pounded ourselves through altitude training in Switzerland, the heat of Doha and the intensity of Wales, and all for four opening bouts of 80 minutes.

When you put it in such terms it sounds a little like madness but this is the Rugby World Cup and, as everyone knows, we’re in a very tough group for the tournament.

I’m not about to start ranting and raving about how hard we’re working because Australia, England and plenty of other teams are working just as hard to get themselves ready.

Personally, I’m probably feeling the most athletic I’ve felt in a long time, but now we have to go out there and play some rugby. At times, in our first warm-up match against Ireland earlier this month we didn’t do that.

As a side, our kick-chase wasn’t great and defensively they were better than us, winning the battle over the gain line. In addition, we didn’t compete at the breakdown too well and, against a side of Ireland’s calibre, you’ll quickly get caught out.

People who say that winning isn’t important miss the point, as Test rugby – whatever the match – is about winning first and foremost, so there was a sense of disappointment and we have a chance to make amends in Dublin this weekend.

Of course, you can read too much into these warm-up games. Take England’s performance against France, for example, it wasn’t what they wanted it to be but you have to remember that each side is trying to take out different things from each match, to test their combinations, fine-tune their World Cup preparations.

To get to that point, a typical day’s training sees the alarm clock go off at 6.45am and, within 15 minutes, we’re in the gym where we do sprints or cycling in a hypoxic chamber, which replicates altitude. It’s a hard way to start your day as you’re constantly trying to catch your breath throughout the session.

Then it’s breakfast followed by us splitting up into backs and forwards for a weights session, lunch and then rugby in the afternoon. Then we’re back in for food and we have a final session in the gym at 8pm. As I say it’s been tough, but it needs to be.

Injuries are a risk, but not one worth worrying about

It’s never a case that you start to worry more about injuries in the build-up to the World Cup. Of course, you want to be an integral part of any World Cup or a Lions tour – those are the pinnacles you aim for as a player.

But injuries are part and parcel of the game, it’s just a risk that you run every time you take to the field for a match or in training for that matter.

Having had some time out from the game for certain operations helps you come to terms with it so you can’t just wrap yourself in cotton wool in the lead-up to a big tournament like this. That’s just not how it works.

There’s no room for sentiment when players are dropped

We’ve lost boys in this squad and we’ll lose more before the World Cup. That’s just the nature of professional sport – it’s a cut-throat business.

It may sound selfish but first and foremost when the cuts are about to be made, your first thought is for yourself and your place in the side. This squad has become so competitive – something Warren Gatland has pushed a lot to achieve – that you’re never quite sure what’s coming.

But take the case of Mike Phillips, who is no longer in the squad. It’s something that’s personally hard to take as he’s someone I’ve got to know particularly well from our time together in Paris. I saw him the other day and he’s actually taken it well and he’s made sure he’s ready should Wales need to come calling for him. His experience and character will be sorely missed but it’s not for any of us players to question selections, and Mike would include himself in that.

The competition for places is strong – as it should be – but ultimately it’s the coach’s decision. Not every player can make it and we all have to respect that.

Fans’ reaction shows depth of feeling for World Cup

We went away to our final training camp in north Wales and it was just incredible to see the support out there. When we got off the train at Colwyn Bay from Cardiff, there were thousands of people lining the streets to greet us. It’s the sort of thing you might expect on a big match day in Cardiff but that level of reaction up there completely took us by surprise. It allows you to grasp the reach and effect of the World Cup.

It was a brief chance to be immersed in the heart of Wales. We’ve either been abroad or else training at the team hotel in Hensol, and it really gave us all the chance to see that everyone is as revved up as we are.

It’s back to the books for me – and a possible Varsity spot

While my focus is entirely on the World Cup, in the few days off I’ve been planning for my new life in Cambridge and London. I’m just going through the final stages of buying a flat in Wandsworth, in south London, while everything’s set up for my studies in Cambridge.

After the World Cup, I’ll be doing a masters in medical science focusing on orthopaedic surgery and I’ll be doing the first term full-time until, hopefully, taking part in the Varsity match against Oxford.

I think Cambridge have lost the last five matches so, hopefully, I’ll get a chance to right that and it’s something I love the idea of adding to my CV while being able to get back into education, which I haven’t done for a while with time spent in Paris.

It’s a brief sabbatical from the game until I join Harlequins at the end of the year but it’s something I feel like I’ll need after the World Cup after seven or eight years of full-time rugby. But as I say, I’ve quite a major rugby tournament first to give that too much thought.