David Flatman: I'm not one to beg but please let me wear Red Rose again
View from the front row with Bath & England prop
Sunday 09 May 2010
As a sportsman, one is almost duty-bound to refrain from giving any actual opinions, voicing any concerns or sharing any genuine desires when asked a question by anyone other than one's own mother. In the terrifying interview situation, the straight bat is the tool of choice when the brain is scrambling to find an answer that will not offend anybody or let too much go. However, as a sports fan, I am as bored and frustrated as anyone by the allergy to actual information that seemingly infects the minds of sporting interviewees the world over. So I thought I might break the mould a little.
In a few days, Martin Johnson will announce his England squad to tour Australia and New Zealand. It wouldn't half be nice to be in it. I know, I have now opened myself up to the ritualistic banter and haranguing reserved solely for a rugby player by his team-mates but it is true; I want to go. Were I not selected then the disappointment would outweigh the boys' fun anyway, so the risk is minimised at least.
The last England tour I was on was in 2004, incidentally to the very same parts of the world. I had picked up what seemed to be a relatively innocuous heel injury a week before the end of the season and, despite the best efforts of the medical staff, remained injured for the trip's duration. And, as it happened, for another 19 months after that. To be there from start to finish but not once lace up my boots was a real low point. Yes, I worked hard at my rehabilitation but I was never part of the tour, and I arrived home feeling I had unfinished business (and a bloody sore foot – the 24-hour flight made it look like my granny's!).
More bad luck and injuries followed and, cue violins please, all hopes of an England recall looked lost for eternity. Yes, all very sad I know but please, save your tears. I always believed that, despite experts disagreeing, I could become a consistent player again capable of doing the England jersey justice should the call ever come.
It was one pearl of wisdom from the physiotherapist who – not to put too fine a point on it – saved my career that illuminated a lightbulb in my darkening little mind. He said: "David, you work hard and that is good. But if you want to keep playing you need to work harder than everybody else and harder than your current mental parameters deem reasonable." And so began a 12-month programme involving a gruelling endurance circuit after breakfast every day, with no days off permitted. No holidays. No booze. No rest.
Now were I a rower or a triathlete this might not have been quite such a shock to the system but, as I mentioned last week, we rugby types are more used to the sort of regime that, while full of hard graft, also allows time to relax with a beverage of choice. While I do not, of course, believe that a bit of hard yakka should qualify a paid employee for the Victoria Cross, it did bring with it great rewards; being fit and available season after season is a gift in itself.
But what would be even nicer is for one's name to pop up on Teletext next week. If it doesn't, I will live. If it does, I might just put the kettle on and celebrate in style. So with this cathartic episode now fully promulgated I must slip back into Chief Superintendent mode, for we must never give too much away. The power of information is a shadow cast over us all.
Robot the only thing missing at the Rec
It was a dead rubber for Leeds yesterday but Bath's coach, Steve Meehan, had stressed that it was our most important game of the season. All the pats on the back we have had would have meant nothing if we had failed to make the top four. Our fate was in our hands – which would have been inconceivable six months ago – and to fail would have been a case of monumental choking.
The game was tetchy for 20 minutes – we hadn't played for a fortnight and there was so much at stake. But we got over the line and I claim credit for an immaculate bounce pass to Joe Maddock which resulted in Matt Banahan's try. The assist of the season?
I even sniffed a try of my own, only for the referee to blow up when I was "clear". David Rose, the fourth official, had just come on to replace the injured Martin Fox. I said to Rosie: "Mate, your first contribution is to deny this crowd at the Rec my first try celebration in seven years. I hope you're proud!" For those interested, my celebration would have been a mix of Peter Crouch's robot and Gazza's dentist's chair. I'd have avoided the Robbie Fowler "white lines" special.
So it's Leicester away in the semis. There is no bigger challenge in English rugby. We go up there as huge underdogs but we're having a great time and if we can pull it off, spirits will be even higher than they are. Which is hard to imagine.
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