I learned a long time ago that no good ever comes from dreaming about big games or big tournaments to come. Rugby has taught me that the game is fickle.
I’ve seen guys miss out on World Cups at the last minute because of injury, so I’ve been living in the moment this past while, going from session to session and from day to day. It’s what works for me. I haven’t wanted to think about this big focal point in New Zealand.
But now the tournament is right in front of us. This is definitely my last World Cup. By the time the next one comes around I’ll be long retired, so the fact this is my final opportunity is something that’s in the back of my head.
I wouldn’t call it extra motivation because I don’t need any extra motivation, but it’s something I think about from time to time. I’ve played in three previous World Cups and I’ve only made it to one quarter-final, so there’s a huge feeling of wanting to achieve something special this time.
New Zealand is a harsh environment. I wouldn’t say it’s my favourite country to tour but it’s not my least favourite either. I have mixed feelings about the place. Obviously, I had the disappointment of the Lions in 2005 and I’ve toured there a number of times with Ireland and have been on the end of a couple of beatings.
When I think about New Zealand the first thing that pops into my head is the distance from home. The isolation. It’s a different existence down there. People say New Zealanders are a lot like Irish people, but I’m not sure about that. I think the fact they’re so far away from most of the rest of the rugby-playing world makes for a different breed of person there. Their confidence as a rugby nation is very, very high. There’s a fine line between supreme confidence and arrogance. It’s an individual thing whether you call it confidence or arrogance but for me on occasion it teeters between the two.
Our pool is a fascinating one. Australia are a terrific team, there’s Italy, who are always dangerous, and Russia and America. We’ve had some right ding-dong battles with Italy over the years and they should probably have beaten us in Rome this year. They’re getting harder and harder to beat. Eddie O’Sullian’s USA team will not be lacking in motivation; Russia, too. These are teams we respect. There’s a massive challenge awaiting us, but we’re ready to embrace it.
It looks as though if you win the pool you have an easier road, for want of a better word, to the quarter-final and semi-final, but World Cups are about beating the best teams. You’ll have to beat some giants along the way no matter what you do. Our mindset is to win the pool rather than striving just for second place.
The Tri-Nations was going on throughout our build-up. I didn’t go out of my way to watch it but if I flicked on the telly and it was on, I left it on. I do enough analysis in camp without doing it at home as well. Put it this way, if it’s The Sopranos on one side and Australia v New Zealand on the other, I’ll go with The Sopranos.
I’ll be studying Australia in-depth soon enough.
This article appeared in the October 2011 issue of Rugby World Magazine.
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