Jonny Willkinson

People are calling this month’s games with Wales and Ireland ‘warm-ups’, but I don’t see them like that. To me they’re like a World Cup or Six Nations Test.

I can’t play too many games against Wales and Ireland, or play enough times in places like the Millennium Stadium or Aviva Stadium. That doesn’t change whether you’re 22 or 32 – you have to embrace every opportunity.

I speak to people who’ve retired, like Richard Hill and Mike Catt, and they would give anything for one more game in an England jersey.

Pre-seasons are always competitive but even more so in a World Cup year. You can’t cruise through things, see them as a step to something else, as you never know what’s round the corner. Until you empty the tank, until you leave yourself vulnerable, you’ll never get all the feedback you need. That’s the point of standing up and being counted. If you act honestly and commit truly, it pays you back.

There’s a lot of pressure, which is good. Martin Johnson expects you to turn up ready to go and there’s responsibility on players to use time well. Every second counts with England at the moment.

The competitive side of the camp is great. That’s not guys eyeing each other and saying, “I’m going to do you out of a place”, it’s them saying, “I’m going to raise the bar every time I’m in the gym, on the wrestling mat or
on the training pitch.”

You have to try to get better every day. At times you’re playing 15 v 15 and you can’t just expect to have a few good days. The camp is about every minute, every session, every warm-up – that is the joy of it.

I never take my place for granted; every cap and every squad I make is precious. I work as hard as I can in camp, then when I go home at weekends – if it’s possible – I get even more serious.

Every breath is working towards the goal. I’m constantly thinking: what can I do to improve? If it’s kicking, then every kick matters. There’s no ‘I might kick a few balls around’. It’s about making the most of every shot.

This article appeared in the September 2011 issue of Rugby World Magazine.

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