England survived a “brutal” training camp in Denver while Wales strained in the heat of Qatar. But as every rugby nation blusters about how tough their pre-World Cup training camp has been, one man who has actually been there and won the medal thinks it’s all an exercise in futility.
“I’m so bored of them all telling me how brutal their summer’s been,” England’s 2003 World Cup winner Will Greenwood says. “They’ve had a great time. They’re 24 years old at the peak of their career with a World Cup coming up, they’re staying in five star hotels. Brutal? Pipe down! Get on with playing.”
Thankfully, for Greenwood’s blood pressure at least, the home nations are about to do just that, with England, Scotland and Ireland all involved in warm-up internationals this weekend.
“The easy win in life is to get fitter,” Greenwood says. “I could take a man off the street and in four years’ time he could be as fit as he needed to be to play in a World Cup. Feed him the right food, get him up early enough and he’s there.
“The hard bit is marrying that with being able to stand up and be counted in a game experience. It’s like the old Sharpe line: ‘You might be able to shoot, but can you stand?’”
Greenwood knows too that England coach Stuart Lancaster is treading a fine line with this PE beasting. When Clive Woodward did the same in 2003, the stress almost ripped the team apart.
“All sorts of things happened in 2003. One weekend Clive pulled us apart and told us, ‘Look, just go home.’ With testosterone flying about we were all irritating the life out of each other,” Greenwood says. “There are only so many times you can eat tofu or have your heart rate taken before you snap and say, ‘Just leave me alone for ten fricking minutes. I’m also a human being.
“And that’s why England went to Denver. You saw some great tweets from the squad when they went to a baseball game to relax. This isn’t finger in the air stuff from Lancaster. He knew the minute-by-minute breakdown of what he would like to happen here about a year ago.”
Presumably Lancaster would also have liked to win the Six Nations earlier this year, would liked to have beaten New Zealand and South Africa at home last autumn. Greenwood knew he was part of a team of champions before a World Cup ball had been chased. This England team don’t have that luxury.
“For someone like me, psychologically useless, the mental lettuce? If I hadn’t gone into the World Cup having won all those games I never would have believed we could have won. But I look in the eyes of some of these kids, and a lot of them are in the Lawrence Dallaglio mould: they never believe they are going to lose a game, and even if they do they still don’t believe they will lose the next one.”
Even if this year’s side don’t have the results behind, Lancaster’s side have one advantage not even the 2003 World Cup winners possessed: home advantage.
“Sportspeople are obsessed with familiarity. We like the same shower, we like the same peg, we like to sit on the same seat of the same bus at the same temperature with the same underpants on having put the same sock on first.”
All England’s creatures of habit need now is a regular winning streak. And perhaps a tolerant kit man.
Sky Sports will show all England’s QBE Internationals this summer
Rugby this Saturday:
New Zealand v Australia, 8am Sky Sports 3 (kick-off 8.35am)