David Flatman: It's straight back into the thick of it for England boys
From the Front Row: No rest for the World Cup players as club duty calls but they wouldn't have it any other way
Sunday 30 October 2011
Turn on the news and, within a minute or two, you'll hear a story that puts your own little grumbles into perspective. Remind yourself that you're relatively fit and healthy and, suddenly, you might stop whingeing about that sore back and cursing the office's ergonomics team for not arriving sooner with that special chair. Remember how much money you receive every month for doing what you do and your tendency to bemoan the odd managerial decision may dwindle.
However, despite the omnipresence of tangible perspective, I am actually staggered by how little rugby players moan these days. I remember finishing my first season with Saracens in 1999 – yes, your maths are correct and I was 12 years old – and being told we all had six weeks off. Three minutes after that meeting had concluded, George Chuter – my new housemate and general dad – informed me of my selection for a lads' reconnaissance trip to a Greek resort that I now know never to visit again.
So I called my dad, got the money, packed my gumshield and headed for the airport. We returned a week later burned, dehydrated, exhausted and totally ebullient. Rugby was, for the first time in a long time, forgotten. I then flew out on a family holiday and proceeded to deepen my burn, eat lovely food and sleep till noon.
After a month we all felt sufficiently fat that we began hitting the gym in light preparation for pre-season training – but in our own time, which, for the usually strictly directed rugby player, seemed a treat in itself. The next year, though, I was selected on my first international tour. That was where the lazy summers stopped. I haven't had one since.
And although they never, ever seem to moan, I don't know how the current crop of international players do it. As our domestic season drew to a close last May we were given a few weeks to rest, but accompanying that news was a folder full of physical targets to be achieved before presenting ourselves for boot camp.
If this seemed tough, the England boys were straight – like the next day – into World Cup preparation. And I happen to know that it was quite brutal. So they spent roughly five months working like dogs, launched into a series of Test matches and, about 10 days after their tournament ended, were expected to be playing for their clubs. No six weeks off, no lads' trips away, no lazing by the pool.
I know, I know, professional rugby provides a nice little life and, really, there is nothing to complain about. But this isn't a complaint. I recall having coffee with the great Richard Hill as a young Saracen, and him telling me under his breath that he hadn't actually had a break in three years. He never lacked motivation – not for a second – but even I could tell he was a bit dead behind the eyes.
We were only halfway through the club season and he was yawningover lunch, covered in strapping and struggling in the gym. His body was screaming for a break, as was his subconscious. But there was anothercompartment of his psyche that refused to give voice to the demons chattering at him day and night: he had to plough on. That weekend we played Leicester and won. Hilly was almost inhuman that day; it might still be the best performance I have ever witnessed.
At one stage, after a particularly enormous hit on Martin Corry, we – his own team-mates – actually applauded him. Like many of today's top players, Hill was staunch until the end, unblinking and seemingly immune to the otherwise ineluctable forces of physical and mental fatigue.
These guys ask not for pity, they just get up and go to work. This is what it takes, and we wouldn't change it.
Gareth Bale reveals the two things he hates about Real Madrid: 'Getting nutmegged and Spanish spiders'
Cristiano Ronaldo: Real Madrid superstar 'sends his hair stylist to look after his waxwork once a month'
Six things we learnt: Louis van Gaal is watching a different Manchester United; Henderson becoming the genuine heir to Gerrard
Terminally-ill Club Brugge fan Lorenzo Schoonbaert delays euthanasia appointment to see his beloved football club 'win one last time'
Steven Gerrard tribute match: An alternative XI the Liverpool player wouldn't want crashing the Anfield party
- 1 What happens to your body when you give up sugar?
- 2 Have sex with your iPad thanks to the new sex toy no-one asked for
- 3 The 'sex selfie stick' lets you FaceTime the inside of a vagina
- 4 Why you're almost certainly more like your father than your mother
Durham Free School: 'Creationism taught at' free school facing closure
Nearly 100,000 of Britain's poorest children go hungry after parents' benefits are cut
End of the licence fee: BBC to back radical overhaul of how it is funded
Nigel Farage promises Ukip will not 'stigmatise' would-be migrants – and says he wants 'everyone to speak the same language'
Ex-head of MI6: 'We shouldn't kid ourselves that Russia is on a path to democracy'
Most people think legal tax avoidance is just as wrong as illegal tax evasion, poll suggests