The first time I toured Australia with an England rugby team we had Lee Mears at hooker, Jonny Wilkinson at fly-half and Mike Tindall at centre, so presumably not much has changed. OK, so that was a schoolboy trip during which we spent our nights with local billets, not in five-star hotels, and we had no trouble staying under the radar. This one might be different.
Whe I went back, in 2004, we were told to expect all sorts of anti-English propaganda from the press and unstinting aggression from the locals. Inevitably, Australian people, when asked, said they hated the Poms and that we were bound to be swept aside by the superior sporting nation. We were reminded frequently that of all nations we, for some reason, were the one everybody wanted to beat the most.
I wondered if they might just be jealous of how handsome we were as a squad; then I looked around the lunch table at the likes of Tindall, Julian White and Steve Borthwick attacking plates of red meat with all the manners of a stray dog upon a squandered sandwich and thought, no, perhaps not.
The truth is, and I am sorry if this ruins the fun for anybody, that rugby really does not do hype all that well. A healthy portion of rivalry is both expected and welcomed but, really, do rugby teams spend time reading and reacting to what an opposition player or coach might have said?
No, there is too much to think about already without wasting extra energy unnecessarily. The traditional episodes of pre-match banter between rival nations are great fun for the public and serve to make the prospect of the upcoming contest all the more exciting but for the player, unromantic as it may sound, this is the stuff of distraction. With kick-off receptions, scrummaging, lineout choreography, breakdown legislation, attacking principles and kick-chase to think about, some bloke we have never met before saying we are destined to be dominated falls – as something to read over breakfast – right down the list.
One principle of touring that I know still exists is the bonding of men. We will train like dogs every day in the heat and will donate every drop of energy in the bank to winning every game. But once the game is done there will, as ever, be a chance to unwind with the very same men with whom one has recently been to the very limits of sporting exertion.
This does not mean turning from an international rugby team to a university one after two pints and letting ourselves down, it means finding somewhere where we can escape the pressures of the job at hand and talk about something other than rugby. This serves both to keep the mind fresh and, perhaps more importantly, as a social tool; we will all know one another better the morning after a few glasses of wine. Inhibitions loosen and the men behind the muscles come out. These environments are where friendships are born.
So it is with great excitement that I look forward to a proper, old-school tour. The inclusion of midweek games means there will no doubt be a traditional vibe to the trip and that ought to make it all the more memorable. Winning, of course, is where the real memories are made and that, with a squad as strong as this, is the only aim. Whatever the outcome, we are a group of blokes determined to do the business on the field and to enjoy what should be some of the greatest, proudest moments of our sporting lives in two quite beautiful countries; to forget to love it would be a sin.
I remember one of my hosts back in 1997 serving me and Iain Balshaw steak, eggs and a cold beer for breakfast. Those days might be gone (thank God) but I'm sure we can find time to hit the beach and make this the trip of a lifetime.Reuse content