We do not feel under any more pressure than we ever would for a Six Nations. There is always pressure playing for England – always has been, always will be – but there is also an air of excitement. It's a huge opportunity to make your mark. Yes, the results were disappointing in the autumn but England did play some good stuff – there was a definite improvement towards the end. There were a lot of young guys involved and that is always going to take time to gel.
We finished second in last year's Six Nations and want to go one better. I'm not saying we are going to win the Grand Slam, but you go out there and believe – otherwise, what is the point?
Wales are one of the best teams in the tournament; they have some very strong players, look at how many Lions they have. In my area, Jamie Roberts and James Hook are dangerous players. Wales are good enough to win the competition, so having them at home is a big thing. Home advantage still counts for plenty in the Six Nations – we have to make a big impact at Twickenham as the three games we have away, Italy, Scotland and France, are pretty difficult.
France are as dangerous as ever; Ireland are experienced and know success. They and Wales have been the strongest teams of the last three years. I love the Irish back three – Kearney, Bowe and Trimble, they have been going well, Trimble especially. He is a big unit and is playing fantastically well. We will be worried about him. Imanol Harinordoquy is my other man to watch for this Six Nations. He has had a couple of lean years but is back to his very best.
My life with the bench boys
It's just before training on Tuesday that the team is announced. We're all changed and ready to go out. "Here's the team," says Johno – there is no fuss, no time to think about it before we are all out training. It doesn't seem that big a deal. In the build up you get an idea which way it's going. You do feel for those who are sent home, but then all the 32-man squad will have some part to play over the next few weeks. All 32 of us are in it together. There is some disappointment if you are not in the starting XV; we are competitive animals and all want to start – there is no way of hiding that. But how you deal with it is what matters.
Being on the bench is an odd one. It can be difficult to prepare mentally – you never know when you are going to come on, or if you are going to come on. When I'm on the bench I never get nervous until the whistle goes, only then is it "Right, I could be on at any moment". In that second you are ready. It is something of a gradual process, the crowd building up, coming out for the game, the anthems, and by the time it kicks off you are raring to go.
I will be covering the 10-12 channel so you have to prepare as if you could be playing either of those positions. I know all the moves and calls for 10. The volume of training is just the same – I always prepare the same way. During the week I put in kick after kick after kick, and you are not happy unless, say, eight out of 10 go over.
Staying on the Boyle
In the build up to a game we have a fair amount of time to chill out after training. The spa at our hotel is popular. I like to lie down and have a read – My Shit Life So Far by Frankie Boyle, the Scottish comedian, is the book I've got on the go at the moment. I do find him very funny. Next on the list is Bill Bryson's Short History of Nearly Everything – again. It's one of my favourite books. It is important to have something to do during the down time ahead of a game – it's too easy to get bored otherwise. Some guys watch TV, I like to get into a book.
Getting Cole warmed up
We room together until Wednesday and then everyone gets one of their own for when wives and girlfriends are allowed to stay. I was put together with Dan Cole, my Leicester team-mate. Whether it's down to Johno or the team manager who shares with whom, I have no idea but I am sure they try and put the new guys with someone they know – which is how I ended up with Dan. It makes it easier when you start off. At club level everything is so familiar, the faces, the training, the routine – when you step up to England it is all different and new. It is a massive learning curve and can be overwhelming for some. It can be a tough time. But Coley is very laid back and seems to have coped with it all fine. He's a quiet guy and sees everything in a very black and white manner. He has a strength of mind that should help him through.