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My Life in Rugby: Lewis Moody – former Leicester, Bath, England and Lions flanker

Lewis MoodySitting on the bench in the World Cup final in 2003 I found myself for the first time ever starting to wonder whether I actually wanted to go on.

Normally being on the bench is the worst feeling and you just want to get out there but as we went into extra-time I started to worry about being the guy who goes on and gives away the penalty that costs his team the World Cup.

Then with seven minutes left Richard Hill went down with cramp and Sir Clive sent me on.

My first involvement was an Australian lineout and the ball landed straight in my hands. From there I was off and just forgot about all those fears and played my natural game.

Obviously I got to play a quite a big role in the final play with Ben Kay calling the lineout for me from which we scored. Everyone knew exactly what we had to do in a situation like that, we had practised it hundreds of times, but if the Aussies had competed they would definitely have stolen the ball because it was really underthrown by Steve Thompson.

Instead we got the ball and then Matt Dawson confused everyone with his extra little dart. That showed that we could react under pressure and we managed to get the ball to Jonny and the rest is history.

But I do remember the feeling of numbness which I had about five minutes after it had finished.

Obviously we celebrated in style but there was a bit of a feeling of, “we’ve done it, what’s the goal now?”

I’d only made my England debut in 2001, though I went on the 1998 Tour of Hell and that was an experience which taught me a lot.

I didn’t really understand what playing for England was about and was easily led. I made a few wrong decisions and didn’t play for England for three years but looking back it was a really important tour for me.

You look at guys like myself, Jonny and Josh Lewsey and it was a huge learning curve. I made my debut on the summer tour to the USA in 2001 while a few of the guys were with the Lions in Australia. From there it all went very quickly.

Between 1998 and 2003, both for Leicester and England, when I walked on to the pitch I just didn’t think I would ever lose.

I’d become Leicester’s youngest player at just 18, although Ben Youngs has since broken my record. We had so many top players at the time, though, that I came close to leaving in 2001.

We’d won the Heineken Cup but I wanted to play games and couldn’t see how it would happen at Leicester, but they persuaded me to stay and from there I really kicked on.

In 2002 I started all the autumn internationals instead of Neil Back and then Lawrence Dallaglio.

Unfortunately I then got injured before that Six Nations but I do wonder what might have been if I’d been fit and kept my place.

After all that success with England, and the Heineken Cups and Premiership titles with Leicester, I really felt sorry for Andy Robinson when he took over with England. He was a good coach but he was just there at the wrong time.

Things changed quite a lot during that time, but I feel very lucky to have gone on the Lions tour in 2005.

The results didn’t go our way but it was an incredible experience playing alongside guys you spend all year trying to beat, as well as going up against Richie McCaw.

In 2007, getting to the World Cup final was just as unbelievable an achievement as 2003, especially after the way we were smashed by South Africa in the group stages. The quarter-final against Australia was my 50th cap and particularly satisfying because no-one gave us a hope. We’d seen Australia didn’t commit many to the breakdown so we just threw ourselves at them.

The difference to 2003 though was clear after the semi-final. When we beat France in Paris it was the joy of making the final, and in the end when it came to the final we couldn’t quite do it.

But we came within a gnat’s c**k of a try that would have got us right back in it. I felt incredibly honoured to then get the chance to lead my country in a third World Cup in 2011.

I really didn’t expect to get the chance but Martin Johnson showed belief in me. I thought we had a good squad and, of course, there will be people who question how we did things.

I’d love to be able to turn back time and see us get to a third World Cup final.

That France quarter-final was my last game for England. It was time for the young guys to step up, but I thought I’d be able to carry on with Bath. It was strange when I realised injury was going to stop me carrying on and I had a tough decision to make because I had a couple of coaching opportunities.

I was aware it would mean getting back involved for another 20 years, 24/7 and I wanted a bit of time to try a new avenue. I just took a couple of months away, instead. I needed a break.

I guess it was inevitable injury would catch up with me eventually, but when I look at it I got picked ahead of some players who were better than me because I threw myself into everything. Sometimes I might have given it a bit too much but you can’t regret that.

Now I’m focusing on February’s Yukon Challenge, a 300-mile trek across the Arctic Circle to raise money for Hope HIV which supports sub-Saharan African children.

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