Two weeks in the life of England's future

Far from Twickers, the boy called up by his country is back with the Colts. Paul Sampson presents a diary of a frantic fortnight
Click to follow
The Independent Online
Sunday 21 January: Train with the England Colts at the RFU development centre in Castlecroft on the outskirts of Wolverhampton. Work on lines of running, handling skills, tackling. With the national under-19 coach Jim Robinson watching, it's impossible to dodge, but I take care because of the AAA Northern Indoor Championships in the afternoon.

Mum, Christine, and dad, Brian, arrive 11.30ish to pick me up. Drive to Don Valley Stadium in Sheffield. Arrive 15 minutes before first heat of the 60 metres. Surprise myself by winning heat, semi and then final in time of 6.94sec. I've never run indoors before. Arrive home to start preparation for essay on the bleakness of Thomas Hardy's poetry for legendary English teacher, Mr David Wood.

Monday: Up at 7.30am as usual. At school, Woodhouse Grove near Bradford, get tucked into some Hamlet, which is the Shakespeare set text for my English A- level. We have to learn a quotation a day reflecting an aspect of the play. Some training with school team, then home for a sandwich before more training at Otley. Reach the middle bit of preparation on the Hardy essay on arrival home.

Tuesday: Afternoon training in the school gym. Down to Thorn Park, Wakefield, in the evening for track work. All right, I take my medal to show off as well. I've got hundreds of them because I've been running since I was nine or 10 but I keep them all. I can't imagine a time when I was not in running shoes or rugby boots and I'm sure athletics helps me to be fit for rugby. In last summer's AAA senior schools 100m I got through the heats but pulled out with two broken bones in my foot I'd got from rugby. Want to get personal best down from 10.7 to 10.5.

Wednesday: Hanging about with my mates in the school quad just after 11 when Keith Jones, teacher and the old head of sport, comes up and says the headmaster wants to see me in his study now. I try rapidly to think what he might want me for this time. Think, well, my mate Stephen Pratt hasn't had the water pistol out. Jonesey goes with me to the study, asks if I know anything and tells me that I won't believe it. I worry some more. The head, Mr Welsh, greets me with a smile, and says he has heard of big news within the school but when several national newspapers have been ringing him all morning it's really big stuff. I didn't have a clue what he was on about. He sat me down and said I was in the full England training squad. I reply with something about the Colts team going to Italy. Mr Welsh says no, it's the full squad for the Wales match. I'm speechless.

Newspapers, photographers, TV cameras start arriving. Am given an hour to deal with them but never get back to lessons. Calls all day at school, which rugby coach Roger Howard helps with. To Yorkshire Television for interview, then to Otley for training. About 40 messages waiting at home, one from John Elliott, RFU national development officer confirming place in the squad. Finish speaking to last reporter just before midnight.

Thursday: Phone rings at 7.30. It's a reporter. Training twice. Thomas Hardy on the back burner. Quiet supper at my sister Gail's house in Ossett.

Friday: Mates all pleased at getting their pictures in the papers. A lot of people notice my short hair. It's like this - I had it cut twice last year; it cost me a fiver both times so I've invested in some clippers.

Go to party. Do a bit of mixing records on the decks. Leave early, chat to Dad at home. He's been a great help. He played rugby league for Wakefield and York and helped his younger brothers, David and Malcolm. He's 62 now but only a few weeks ago he took me to the football ground in Thackley, our home village, and showed me a body swerve I've used since.

Saturday: Would have played for school side before leaving for London but snow forces cancellation. Newspaper interview before being picked up in Wakefield by Terry Crystal, the England team doctor. At Leicester, England coach Les Cusworth joins us. He says: "Have you come down to earth yet?" Sort of, I say. "Well you better had before you meet Jack."

Meet Jack Rowell at Petersham Hotel before dinner. Introduced by room- mate Philip de Glanville, who creases himself at Yorkshire TV crew following me round. Jack says: "Who told me you were 6ft 3in?" I'm 5ft 8 1/2, but I've been 5ft 11in in the papers. Feel nervous for first time.

Sunday 28 January: Cliff Brittle, new RFU chairman, introduces himself at breakfast. Then training at Strawberry Hill. Scores of reporters. Feel I do OK; not overwhelmed but can't show pace indoors. Rory Underwood is brilliant to me. People have talked of me as a winger but really I'd like to see myself as a new age full-back, running, kicking. Get home and show the family my new England kit.

Monday: Letters from Old Groveians still arriving. Sign autographs for some of the juniors, which is really nice. Begin to make progress with Hardy essay. Mr Wood has given me an extension. He's a great teacher, respected by all pupils. He's a bit of a cricketer, supports Huddersfield Town and you feel you want to work for him. An inspiration.

Tuesday: Training. Grab tea. Finish essay.

Friday: Learn Hamlet quote for day; happens to be same one as my girlfriend Vicky's, but do deal with Mr Wood to let me have it. Meet England Colts at Castlecroft. Get some stick for coming in my Cellnet gear.

Saturday: Another training session, in which I was slightly hampered by a niggle in a foot. We watched a recording of the the England match early in the evening. It was a bit disappointing, really. I couldn't sense a pattern of play from England, whereas I could from Wales, but it was a good win all the same, and obviously I would like to be in the squad again. But there are A-levels to do as well, and I must pass them.

Comments