The World Cup starts in September. Can England win it?
Yes they can, but they’ve got plenty of work to do – the host nation is never an easy proposition for anyone in a World Cup – but New Zealand have to be the outstanding favourites. The autumn gave England a big dose of reality. Maybe the two defeats have taken a little bit of pressure off the team – no one now is really expecting them to win the World Cup, which is perhaps not a bad position to come from.
It’s still not clear what England rugby’s strongest team is. Does that worry you going into a home World Cup?
Given the England team is not yet settled this close to a World Cup, for club players there’s still plenty to play for. Ordinarily if you have the shirt, you might have one or two weeks where, if things don’t go your way, it’s not the end of the world. But the reality is that because not every position is nailed down, you have to win that England jersey every week.
Is it hard for England internationals to give their all to both club and country?
Everyone has their own individual programmes, ambitions and targets. Clearly, with international players, there are three or four blocks of international rugby you have to be prepared for.
Those players can’t possibly stay at nine or ten out of ten for every game. They have to peak at the right times. You have to be selfish as an individual, and think about what your priorities are, and build your training programme around that.
Does that mean there’s a divide between club and country?
Clubs have certain priorities, and their agenda is different to England’s. They know they will lose a player for the Six Nations, so they want to make the most of that player in between. From my playing days, my club was my bread and butter. Wasps was my family, the people I saw week in, week out. There is a responsibility to perform for your club. Your place in the England squad can be taken away. The place that picks up the pieces is your club.
When you go away and enjoy the delights of international rugby, it’s only fair that when you come back you put something back in.
Are you worried that the coach, Stuart Lancaster, doesn’t seem to have picked his starting fly half?
There are a few people who do know who the backs should be. It just doesn’t seem to match up with who got picked in the autumn! When some of your best players are out of form, and others are injured, it creates question marks around selection. There’s no doubt that pre-autumn, Saracens’ Owen Farrell was the number-one choice. Bath’s George Ford pushed himself in the frame and fully deserved his start. With a fit Farrell, Stuart Lancaster has a selection problem to sort out.
What are the decisive club match-ups for England?
Billy Vunipola and Ben Morgan will go head-to-head at number eight when Gloucester play Saracens. Billy played the first two games of the autumn for England, then Ben took his spot. Billy hasn’t become a bad player overnight; he’s just in need of a bit of game time back at his club. I’m a big fan of Ben Morgan, but he plays in 20-minute spells. He needs to get consistency in his game.
Chris Robshaw is captain of the England team, but not of his club Harlequins. Is that strange?
I felt very comfortable doing both roles. I didn’t feel it was an easy job to pick up and drop off. Clearly from Harlequins’ point of view they want to bring in other players for that leadership role. A lot of clubs used to rotate their captaincy.
How healthy is England’s domestic game?
Clubs are gearing themselves up to cope with the demands of professional sport. You only have to look at my old club Wasps – they’ve swapped their 6,500-seater Adams Park for the 32,000-capacity Ricoh Arena in Coventry. Financially it’s a no-brainer: they’ve gone from having the smallest balance sheet in club rugby to the second biggest in Europe.