Ah, the old days... when I used to sit and wait to see my name pop up on Teletext somewhere in the middle of an England squad announcement. I jest not.
Along with most of the other lower-grade members of the squad, I would sit and wait. Now and then it would all be revealed during a training session and we would find out on the way back in to the showers. "Flats, you're in, must be a lot of injuries about," my then head coach at Saracens, Mark Evans, used to say, in a tone I now know to be both facetious and congratulatory.
Of course, there were also times when Saracens players were not selected. We had a team manager in those days who, despite being probably the most popular member of the entire club, had practically no social skills whatsoever.
He was like a dog that had not been socialised as a puppy. He would stand at the clubhouse door as we traipsed back in, high-strength cigarette in hand ("Of course it's strong, I'm a man, you idiot," he once said to me), and he would point at international hopefuls on the way in. "Yes, yes, no, no, no," was all he really offered by way of feedback.
We knew no better, so this system never seemed anything other than the way things had to be. In truth, it was the news that hit the hardest, not the means of delivery. Being selected for England is a strange experience, or at least it was for me.
I would see my name on the list and sometimes it would be next to Jason Leonard's, due to our positional similarities. All men are different but, to me, a very young player and huge rugby fan, that always dictated that the chemical reaction in my veins was euphoric, naturally, but also laced with a level of fear.
Some would doubtless read of their inclusion, stick the kettle on and get on with things, so inevitable was this result. That was never the case for me, partly because I was never an automatic choice and also because it always meant so much to me that my overactive mind had invariably convinced me there was no way these learned men would possibly include me.
But once or twice they did, and it felt quite astonishing. I truly hope that the men for whom this dream came true last week feel half as happy as I did all those years ago, for what they have achieved is magnificent. There will be arguments until the end of time about whether blokes born in New Zealand or South Africa ought really to be playing for England, but that is an argument for the suits.
As it happens, I do not care about all of that too much. Some of the greatest Englishmen I have played with have been South African; Mike Catt, England's attack coach, being one of them. Yes, I sometimes giggle on the inside when I read the first name of one England centre, Manusamoa, but I giggle on the outside when I remember that Manu Tuilagi is whacking people in a white jersey and not a blue one.
I look at these announcements as a rugby fan and the squad looks fantastic. The game may have gone all modern and cut out the carbs, but certain principles will never die.
Seeing your name on that list means as much to a rugby man as anything ever could. But, of course, this is only the very first step. Selection does not represent success, it represents the delivery of an opportunity to achieve success. What Stuart Lancaster, England's head coach, and his team seem to be doing is choosing players who will be excited by their inclusion, but will also see it as nothing more than a chance to become the best.
Leonard is not just a legend of the game because his name was written on every list for a generation. He's a legend because every time an opportunity was delivered via said list he puffed his chest out, readied himself to push himself to extremes and performed. He got the chance and took it, time after time.
I expect these lads get a call or a text these days before word hits the internet... all very contemporary. Nothing substantial changes, though; all they have been given is a chance.Reuse content