David Flatman: 'Dirt trackers' we may be but we're ready to kick up a storm
View from down under with the England prop: Tour so far has been all about Aussie Rules, Chris Ashton's 'jokes' and Davie Wilson's sunscreen – but the real stuff will start when I run out on Tuesday
Sunday 06 June 2010
I am thinking about taking up Aussie Rules. OK, so these boys probably cover 20 kilometres over the course of a game and I doubt I trot much more than a quarter of that in a rugby match, but bear with me.
I reckon about a fortnight in the Perth summer sun would see me sweat off the weight of an average Labrador, leaving me a leaner, more endurance-based athlete (but still about 20 kilos heavier than your common-or-garden "footy" player). The kit is super, super tight, which, I am sure you will agree, can only be great news for my physique and public profile. But more importantly than all of this, pretty Australian girls love footy. So I would never meet any of them (wife plus physical appearance would see to that), but life is just better when the scenery is this good. Fact.
Realistically, I am unlikely – due purely to the fun Mother Nature had with my body shape – ever to receive that golden offer. In truth, it is probably the place that has captured me more than the local sports. The climate here is just about perfect; sunny and sufficiently warm that James Haskell can save a few quid on sunbeds but cool enough by night that I can exist in a bar without panting like a St Bernard in the Kalahari.
To train here is a joy. The ball remains mercifully dry and the massaging breeze that comes in off the ocean serves not only to regulate the body temperature of the gorillas but also, amusingly, to mask the effects of a strong sun on the skin of some of our fairer squad members. Davie Wilson looks like a mime artist by the time he takes the field; smothered head to toe in high-strength sun cream which, inevitably, runs into his eyes the minute he's above a jog. You can take the boy out of Newcastle...
Besides not having yet played a match, I'd describe this week as a proper week on tour. Jet-lag is always an issue, especially when one has to train at such intensity every morning, and it was nice to see that the methods designed to beat it have not evolved beyond the necessary – "Operation Keep The Boys Awake" involved some al fresco dining at a beautiful restaurant and a nice, social evening of male bonding. Nothing too crazy, but a welcome break from talking rugby and a good opportunity to get to know some new people.
Once acclimatised, the training began in earnest. With lots of new calls and systems to learn and practise, sessions could easily run for hours but in these days of professionalism and player welfare, things are kept intense, physical and concise. At no point are we left guessing where to run or what role to fulfil, every minute's work is planned and accounted for, meaning we get the most out of every session.
Yesterday saw us step up the physicality to 100 per cent to see how our skills and communication stand up under the ultimate pressure: big blokes doing their best to take your head off! It was great to be a part of and certainly left us all feeling that today's day off is earned.
The mixture of hard graft and free time to sup fruit smoothies is, I would say, just about right. It is not a holiday and there is a job to do out here that has to come first. But, and I truly believe this, rugby is a job that has to be fun, too. It is simply too hard an occupation to hold down with nothing to smile at. Fortunately we have George Chuter acting as our historical guide by offering us lots of random but well-researched trivia on the microphone during every bus trip. Chris Ashton seems to have been given the task of telling one joke a day on the team bus (against his will, naturally) but since none of us understands his Wigan accent, we have no idea whether his gags are funny or not. He sees us in the seating aisle in hysterics and feels sure he has, once again, nailed his comedy timing, so perhaps we shouldn't tell him he may as well be speaking German.
The only thing left to do is play. I cannot wait to run out against the Australian Barbarians on Tuesday night and I know the other 14 lads feel the same. Midweek dirt trackers we may be, but we are England and we intend to do the jersey justice. Of course, we all want to make the Test team, but that's not what will be running through our minds in two days' time; winning is everything. I'm just off to check my shirt size with the kit man and make sure it is as big as possible. I'm not quite the Aussie Rules antelope yet.
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