We're ready to enter the realm of the unknown

RUGBY WORLD CUP 1995: For Tony Underwood, writing from inside the England camp, the waiting is about to end
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As a rugby player there are goals that I aspire to in my playing career. I have been fortunate enough to pull on the red rose for my country and the three lions of the British Isles. Having also taken part in a Grand Slam the outstanding aims I now have are to play in a Lion's Test and to win the World Cup.

This is only the third occasion the tournament has been held yet it is undeniably the jewel in rugby's crown and what all of us are striving toward. I was on the circuit at the time of the last World Cup and was bitterly disappointed not to be taking part. Instead I had to suffer with you all as the final step turned into a stumble. This time round I can experience the preparation and the campaign first-hand, starting well before we even reached these shores. A build-up which was nothing short of extraordinary was overshadowed by the issue of professionalism and a small matter of flatulence (a godsend to the army of after-dinner speakers out there).

The depth of spirit within the squad was borne out by the events over VE weekend, to no great surprise except, I guess, to the executive committee of the Rugby Football Union. What was of greater note though, especially to our squad, was the volume of support voiced by the public then and in subsequent weeks.

Rugby really hit the public consciousness four years ago, when the tournament was staged on the doorstep, but that is nothing to what we have experienced in the run-up to this competition. We have been barraged by a deluge of well-wishers, whose hopes and dreams we carry on our shoulders.

These hopes are nothing short of gold in colour. Hopes built up as a result of our performances on the pitch and our talking off it in the recent domestic campaign. We do not feel that these are unfounded but so much to come lies in the realms of the unknown. We have shown that we can more than live with the best, now we have to prove that we can do so consistently.

This means being mentally, as well as physically, ready to play six Test matches in four weeks, including the likelihood of having to beat three of the best teams in the form of South Africa, New Zealand and Australia. A huge challenge; but if you want to be the best you have to beat the best. Where we differ from the England team of four years ago is that they felt they were good enough to get to the final. That is only half- time as far as this team is concerned.

Preparation has been thorough, with an enlarged World Cup squad first assembled in September of last year. The intensity of the preparation was such that it is a great relief that we are here at last. We have lived and breathed this event for nigh on nine months with the Five Nations campaign proving an almost welcome respite.

Acclimatisation suits have been worn for training, diets have been tailored, videos have been analysed, tonnes have been lifted and miles have been run, cycled or swam in readiness for this test of endeavour. My life has been turned upside-down for the chance to be on the greatest stage of them all - to perform amongst the elite players in the world. This is the stimulant, the drug that makes it all worthwhile. A month stands between this team and despair or glory. We want a taste of the latter, badly.

Whether you share this desire or not I very much hope you enjoy the spectacle ahead. With the reintroduction of South Africa, and the fact that this time around there are five very strong contenders to choose from, everything points to this World Cup being the best yet. And what a game to start it off with, South Africa, the hosts, versus Australia, the holders. Barring any mishaps in our pool games we will play the loser of this game in our quarter-final and probably the winner in the final. Who would you choose?