Monday was a nervous day for me and every other Wales player hoping to make it into the World Cup squad.
The coaches didn’t have a quiet word with any of us behind closed doors to tell us whether we’d made the cut or not, we found out the same time as everyone else – much as happened with the British & Irish Lions tour in 2009.
So it was an anxious time, sitting there waiting to find out if you’ve done enough for selection and whether you’ll have a part to play in the World Cup. But the selectors have to be ruthless and there are those who, sadly, missed out.
Right now the feeling in the camp is great. I’d spoken last week of how imperative it was for us to win in Dublin and build the momentum before the World Cup and we did that, beating the No 2 team in the world on their home turf.
There’s so many positives to take from the game but, most of all, it was the defensive display that pleased me, the manner in which we managed to shut the Irish down – and they’ve got a lot of potent attackers.
I’ve played a lot of Test match rugby now and I can happily say that’s one of the most intense matches I’ve ever been involved in – and it was a warm-up match. But that’s because of what’s at stake, 30 players desperate to make their mark before the tournament and get that all-important win in the bag.
This may be England’s World Cup but it feels like a home tournament for us too, with two of our pool games at the Millennium Stadium. Hopefully, as a side we’re coming to a peak at just the right time. It certainly feels that way.
The heartbreak of the last World Cup still haunts me
I’m still slightly haunted by the last World Cup in many ways. I know as a player you’re supposed to put those things to rest but for me, four years on, it still acts as immense motivation having got so close but fallen just short.
The highlights for me were getting the win over a very physical Samoan side to set up a quarter-final against Ireland: those games still rank as my favourite memories in a Wales jersey. We played near perfectly to book our place in the semi-final.
But to go from that immense high in one week to lose out on a place in the final by a single point was just total heartbreak. It was so difficult to take, but that’s sport.
So this feels like a chance to make amends, and these opportunities don’t come along very often. Four years is a long time to wait.
We are confident we can survive the ‘Pool of Death’
We’re going into the tournament with one goal only – to win it. But we know how tough an ask that is, particularly in our pool, the so-called “Pool of Death”. As a result, it’s hard to look any further than the pool stage.
People overlook Uruguay but that’s our first match and they will have prepared for it very well. Then we have the Pacific Nations champions in Fiji, the recently crowned Four Nations champions in Australia – and England, who, as we know, are always a formidable threat. But we feel we have an incredible side ourselves and we certainly haven’t remotely discussed the possibility of being knocked out early on. For sure, three sides are going to be disappointed from our pool but we’re not planning to be among those.
Burgess does the basics very well for England
A lot’s been made about Sam Burgess’s selection for England. I’ve only met him once, when we were training in Sydney and he came along with his brother, and I must confess I’ve not seen him play all that much in rugby league.
But since his switch to union I’ve seen him play for Bath and I obviously watched his England debut, in which I think he did pretty well. He did the basics well and defended very well. Is it a gamble? I’m not sure that’s for me to say. It’s an interesting selection but Stuart Lancaster and his coaching staff have not solely gone on that England performance but on what he’s done in training and he’s clearly been impressive. He’s now got the opportunity to go out there and set the world alight.
As for the other centres selected, I’ve played against Brad Barritt a number of times. The guy’s a leader for Saracens and for England. He does the basics well, as any 12 should, he’s strong defensively and good on the gain line. Jonathan Joseph is so fleet of foot, which makes him very dangerous and hard to defend against. And then there’s Henry Slade, who really has come from nowhere this season. His performances for Exeter have obviously got him into contention and he’s taken his opportunity with both hands, which is what it’s all about in international rugby.
My midfield partnership with Williams is building nicely
In my career I’ve been used to playing in midfield with Jonathan Davies but, sadly, Jon’s been ruled out of the World Cup and I was playing alongside Scott Williams in Dublin last weekend.
Scott’s shown in the last few seasons that he’s a quality, quality player. I’m really getting to know him both as a player and a bloke, and it feels like we’re really beginning to build a relationship, which is key. Like me, he’s honest and we’re not afraid to raise the negatives as well as the positives of each other’s game. We’ll both be striving to bring out the best in each other.
Scott and I and the rest of the squad have all had to raise our intensity in training. It feels like Warren Gatland and his coaches have managed the players well. We feel fit, our game against Ireland showed we’re getting there and, hopefully, peaking at the right time.
The confidence is there and, for those selected, the time has come.Reuse content