David Flatman: Rule of thumb: stick to pizza if you want a slice
View from the front row with Bath & England prop
Sunday 27 September 2009
A rugby club is a different place after a win. No matter what is at stake or the level at which one is playing, wins mean smiles. Having lost our first two Guinness Premiership matches to Gloucester and Wasps the vibe around the training ground was not ideal. Naturally, we always enjoy our sessions but when you're coming off a loss, there is a cloud of frustration and discontent hanging over the players. An intangible but entirely real sense that all is not well – that something needs fixing.
Having travelled to Sale and secured an invaluable win, everybody was bouncing around and morale was where it should be. Were it a wildlife documentary the difference in the group's behaviour and general demeanour from last week to this would have been every bit as stark as a comparison between a pack of starving, beleaguered wild dogs desperate for a kill and a family of recently fed, sun-drenched baboons. The imagery alone is more accurate than you might believe.
This atmosphere was particularly beneficial to one man: Matt Carraro. Our new Australian centre had a somewhat odd but certainly painful accident on Monday, cutting his hand open with a newly purchased kitchen knife. He and his flat-mate Julian Salvi were planning to knock up a hearty stir-fry when it all went horribly wrong.
Duncan Bell, with real compassion in his voice, offered some simple advice: "Stick to pizza deliveries, our kid, you can't cut yourself on a cardboard box." The man has a point. I'll be sure to mention it to our long-suffering nutritionist at my next appointment.
The announcement of this injury to the squad was met with a sadistic explosion of laughter that, to Matt's relief, rubbed off on the coaches. In another week the reaction of those up high might have been a touch less accommodating. Being, most of us at least, like schoolyard children hidden inside the bodies of large adults we seized the opportunity to taunt and tease poor old Matt mercilessly.
The result was that, in a bid to abate the veritable torrent of abuse, Matt trained on Thursday with a hand so swathed in white bandage and dressings that he looked like a mummy. Mission accomplished.
When preparing for a big match, and Leicester counts as one of those, the smiles and laughs do not disappear and make way for anxiety and nerves. They are, however, backed up by an atmosphere built entirely on foundations of focus and relentless belief. We certainly would never promote ourselves in the manner of, say, a professional boxer but we go into every game truly believing we will win. Without that confidence – that steel – there is no point in taking the field.
Equally there is no point in committing yourself to life as a full-time rugby player if you don't intend to enjoy it along the way. These days it is too hard a job to muddle through; you have to love it just to get by. There are, arguably, more lows than highs (only one team can win the trophy, after all) so to survive one has to be resilient and mentally tough.
This toughness comes right to the fore on selection day. Over the past season or so we at Bath have rotated our front row players pretty regularly. This serves to keep us all fresh and, in the long run, expose us to less risk of injury. To play every game in this league is very tough but to play every game and perform as well as you can is impossible. We know this system is put in place to benefit both the team and the player, so why does that offer no consolation when one's name isn't called out?
It is not, despite what the cynic may claim, resentment of the man in the team – David Barnes and I are close friends and I can honestly say that I want desperately for him to play well and he feels the same when the roles are reversed. We are team-mates but that doesn't mean we aren't competitors. We both want our name to be read out by the coach but when it isn't, it is unacceptable for us to sink into a sulk and let that effect the starting team. We have to redirect all the anger, all the aggression and feelings of injustice, toward the team ethic. This is the role of the professional.
As a result of so much of this feeling being properly redirected this week, training has hit a new level of intensity. There is competition, even the odd punch-up at times (all handbags of course – rugby players aren't as good at fighting as they would have you believe) but this all serves to prepare the team for the battle that, in this league, is always just days away.
To wrap us up in cotton wool and keep us all fuzzy and warm would be to do us a disservice. To enjoy our time in this game we must win and to win we must work. We come prepared – prepared to fight for our lives and to protect the environment in which we thrive.
Little's a big hit in game where margins are so small
Our draw against Bath yesterday was very, very frustrating. We were five minutes from winning the game but I suppose Leicester have a similar feeling, and after they scored their second try we did well to come back with a match-saving penalty.
Thank God for Nicky Little's composure. Once he struck that penalty it was never in doubt. His kicking game was even better than it was the previous week at Sale – in the absence of superstar kickers like Butch James and Olly Barkley, the staff have done well to recruit him.
These Fijian boys are very different in that they have a very relaxed attitude. After the game yesterday Nicky had to drive up to Manchester and most of us would consider that a pain in the backside, but he didn't give it a second thought.
When he got a yellow card for tackling Geordan Murphy I was on the bench and I had the chance to talk to him. "What are you here for?" I asked him, as I hadn't seen the incident. "What do you think?" he replied. Nicky's not a malicious guy and in training he always tackles low and fair, but the Fijians do love the big hit.
I was very glad to get on and even more pleased to play a part in denying Leicester a pushover try near the end. When you're five metres from your own line and the Tigers are going for a pushover, you either find the necessary reserves or you don't.
We got an early hit and then the nudge on the second scrum, which they were adjudged to have brought down.
It was the rub of the green but I think we deserved it. We played a lot of rugby.
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