A Final Session on English Soil before the Crunch
The England rugby squad used The Lensbury by the Thames at Teddington for their final session before they fly out to take on France in Pau on Sunday.
There was no holding back. Backs and forwards exerted themselves to the full on a fine January afternoon.
The whole squad indulged in some ultra-quick handling before they split into their two main groups. All the set-pieces and patterns of play were practised with intensity.
Occasional comments escaped into the ether: ‘It’s not fair! You’re bigger than me!’ But players of this standing know how to get their own back pretty quickly.
Another was: ‘Play like France!’
We won’t know if the players responded adequately to this challenge till Sunday afternoon. But we can be sure the chosen Fifteen will play in best English traditions.
At the end of the session, the coaches met for a confab in midfield, while certain players were invited across for interviews with the watching media.
There were at least two very excited young players involved: Amelia Harper and Morwenna Talling, who will be experiencing a full-blown France-England match for the first time.
Fortunately for them, there are some very wise heads around to give them some idea of the intense atmosphere to be expected in the Stade du Hameau in Pau. So instead of the Alpine setting of Grenoble two years ago, the players may get a glimpse of the Pyrenees.
But today’s setting was calm and beautiful, right next to the river, where a misdirected kick could easily land in the drink. Needless to say, none were on view the whole afternoon. The kickers honed their skills out of hand and off the tee.
Afterwards Simon Middleton was kind enough to have a few words. He explained who was and was not likely to return from injury before the series ends. (Details available as the final whistle blows in Padua on March 15.) He explained his thinking behind the selection of the two debutants. He recognises this first game as the big challenge, but he, the squad and the support staff are all ready for it. He was in good humour after a long day’s exertion.