Twickenham is in sight - and a half-time lead would be nice

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The Independent Online

This is the final straight. Saturday will mark the end of this epic journey, which has taken me from Bath to Twickenham in the last four weeks. And what better way to finish what can only be described as the toughest physical test of my life than walking on to the pitch during half-time in England's match against Australia. I just hope we're 20 points up by then.

This is the final straight. Saturday will mark the end of this epic journey, which has taken me from Bath to Twickenham in the last four weeks. And what better way to finish what can only be described as the toughest physical test of my life than walking on to the pitch during half-time in England's match against Australia. I just hope we're 20 points up by then.

A comfortable win against the World and Tri-Nations champions would be very nice indeed, but I think we all know that is not likely. This little walk of mine has taken up rather a lot of my time, so I haven't been as interested in the build-up as normal. All I know is that this is a must-win Test for England. I am sure that most of the lads are still smarting after the defeat by Ireland in the Grand Slam decider last month. That's why they need to get that bad day out of their systems as quickly as possible.

Clive Woodward has made a number of changes; some which I agree with, others which I don't. The omission of Phil Greening is not too surprising, particularly when you consider his most recent performances. To have Martin Corry injured is unlucky, because he has been on excellent form for England and the Lions in the not-too-distant past. Simon Shaw did quite well in Dublin, and I am not sure why he has been left out.

On the positive side, England have such strength in depth these days that the management have an embarrassment of riches to choose from. This is especially true of the backs and I am pleased to see that Austin Healey will probably get a starting place. He gives the team that little something extra, that unknown quantity, and he will be a useful weapon against the well-organised Wallabies. The only other major question is whether Clive will start with Matt Perry at full-back. My gut feeling is that he will, if only because he has never yet let England down.

As for Henry Paul, I think he is probably just a little short of union practice to make the match-day squad. While Clive will be all too aware what Jason Robinson has achieved in such a short space of time, he will be anxious not to throw the former league star into the deepest of ends with a debut against Australia.

Defeating the Aussies is going to be tough enough for the guys who have done nothing but play the 15-man code all their lives. All Wallaby teams are disciplined, hard-working, hard-tackling, supremely confident, and wonderfully skilled. Most tellingly of all, though, they absolutely hate losing. England, meanwhile, will miss Martin Johnson and Lawrence Dallaglio, but not many sides come to Twickenham and leave with a win, so I reckon the home team will come out victorious.

It would certainly help lift the spirits for my little half-time cameo if we could have our noses in front at the break. I have been back to Twickenham only once since hanging up my boots, for last season's Zurich Premiership play-off final between Leicester and Bath. Saturday, however, will be my first time back on the pitch since my England bow in the last World Cup two years ago. As I am sure you can imagine, there will be plenty of emotions out there.

At least I won't be knackered. We are staying at Richmond the night before the game, so I will only be faced with a mile walk for my final bit of the trek. Good news, really, because your mad walker is starting to feel the aches and pains. Last Thursday, we completed a record 29.3 miles in a single day. There were times when I thought I would collapse, but the sight of Mark Pennington – the landlord of The Nags Head in Sutton-in-Ashfield – completing the entire distance was enough to carry me through to the finish. And what a reception we got in Mansfield town centre, as the rugby club's under-14 team formed a guard of honour at the end.

Other people I would like to thank for last week include the golfer Mark James, a former Ryder Cup captain, who walked alongside me from Harrogate to Leeds on Monday. Mark has only recently recovered from cancer himself, and he showed a lot of bravery in joining us. What's more, unlike most days, his walk wasn't ruined by that sport of his. On Friday, Martin Johnson also ignored his current injury and walked the last nine miles with me, as did Victor Ubogu. You've honestly never seen three such contrasting rugby players marching in unison.

Ben Clarke also deserves a special mention. He is said to be furious because I forgot to tell him that he should wear protective gear on his feet to avoid getting blisters. He is not a happy bunny, but, if reports are correct, the good news is that the pain should prevent him from catching me before the finish line.

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