The build-up to the 2015 Rugby World Cup was big. When that opening day came, when we were set to play Fiji in the first game, I was excited — extremely excited. All day, messages were coming through from family, friends, loved ones, coaches and teachers. I remember there were so many messages coming through.
It felt different. Normally on game day, I lie-in and may even sleep a little during the day. If it’s a 3 o’clock game, the team will get up, have breakfast, do a run-through and then head off to the stadium without too much thought. But this was an evening rugby game — and the opening game of a home World Cup — so I spent most of the day just trying to sleep. I went for a walk to get out of the hotel and stretch my legs, grabbed a coffee and read all of those messages.
I remember that there was so much excitement in the air, not to mention nerves, that lots of people couldn’t sleep. It really was just a completely different process. Different mentally, different physically — a totally different preparation. Everything was pushed back — but when we started to get ready, we did some activation, medicine-ball throws and weights to stimulate our bodies. We call them ‘fire-ups’.
"It was different mentally, different physically — a totally different preparation..."
Because it was an evening game, it was important not to feel lethargic or sluggish. These fire-ups kept us going and, after our final meeting with Stuart Lancaster, we got on the bus to Twickenham.
We started seeing white shirts. First a couple. Then hundreds. Then thousands. We’d been in a bit of a bubble up to that point — on the bus, to the hotel, back to the bus, to a stadium, back on the bus, back to the hotel. But that bus journey was the first time we really saw the effect of the tournament. It was the first time we saw the effect it was having on the fans. It was an incredible feeling. It was very special.
And it only got more emotional. As we walked through the sea of shirts and flags into the stadium, the feeling of this being very different really was there. But then, we were straight into the changing rooms and we were removed from it again — it all disappeared.
Because of that, we didn’t actually see or experience any more of that build-up until after we warmed up. The opening ceremony, which was also taking place at Twickenham that night, actually affected our warm up — because we couldn’t get onto the pitch. Instead we had to warm up in the changing room.
As a result, the coaches had to rely on the guys to get themselves ready. And not just with the warm up. That game was really about preparing our brains as much as our bodies — especially as we hadn’t experienced an environment like that before. And some players like to wander around beforehand and take in the stadium — thankfully, I just like to get out and be straight into it.
But there we were, in the changing rooms having finished our warm up. And we were removed from all the singing and the cheering and the ceremony. So we lined up and went out onto the pitch — our first experience of the World Cup — and it absolutely erupted. It was a brilliant, brilliant feeling.
World Cup aside, there is always something special about playing on a Friday night. The lights bring extra excitement, the crowd are always a couple more beers deep and the players love it! That night, everyone was also a little more vocal — and I’ll never forget leading the guys out into a home World Cup. It was a massive honour — and one that will stay with me for the rest of my life.
As told to Harry Jackson.
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