I’ll be making my first appearance for the Barbarians at the end of this month and I’m really looking forward to it. I was supposed to play for them against England in May last year, but I broke my thumb and had to pull out. So this will be a great experience, and a chance to tick off one of my rugby dreams. Ask most players and they’ll tell you that being part of the Barbarians tradition is something they want to achieve.
The Baa-Baas have assembled some great names for the match against Australia and it will be good to have a week training together beforehand, particularly as Graham Henry is coach. I’ve never worked with Graham before but I’ll be picking his brains as much as I can. He and Brian Ashton are close and swap tips, some of which Brian passed on to us when he was coach of England.
It will also be a treat to play at Twickenham, my favourite ground. The last time I played there was for Wasps in the 2010 St George’s Day match against Bath, so it’ll be good to be back.
I’ve been in Australia with the Melbourne Rebels since the end of October, and I’ll be flying back for the Barbarians specially. I spent a lot of the summer in London and did some fitness work with my old speed coach Margot Wells, so I feel in good shape.
I’ve just turned 24 and feel I’ve reached a point in my career where I’ve got to start making strides. Last season I matured a lot playing for the Rebels in Super Rugby, and playing for England remains my big ambition. I want to get back in the side and hope that I can start to state my case by playing well for the Rebels.
The first season in Australia was always going to be a challenge as it was a new side and it took us time to get to know each other’s style of play. But we made progress as the season wore on and now we’ve signed Kurtley Beale and James O’Connor, so they’re going to add to our quality. We expect to win a lot more games now that we’ve been together for a year and are more structured.
I got some criticism for my defence last season and it was my own fault so I’ve no complaints, but there’s no doubt the game in the southern hemisphere is faster. Obviously that’s got a lot to do with the climate and the state of the pitches. It’s hard to keep the pitches in good condition in England when it’s snowing and raining! The other difference you notice Down Under is how big rugby is compared to England. In England it’s all football but when you play Super Rugby the coverage is huge.
It’s been a great opportunity for me to play against so many quality players. Two who stand out are Radike Samo and Quade Cooper of Queensland Reds, who I loved playing against. I went to Australia to test myself against the best and improve as a player, and I hope I’m doing that.
Tickets for Barbarians v Australia on Sat 26 Nov (2.30pm) at Twickenham are available from £35 for adults and £15 for U16s. Call 0844 847 2492 or see ticketmaster.co.uk
This article appeared in the December 2011 issue of Rugby World Magazine.
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