Sitting on a sun drenched balcony in Australia looking out over Surfers Paradise the idea six gruelling games of 7s might not be the first thing on your mind. But at 11.36 am on Saturday we will touch gloves with Spain and knuckle down for the first round of the IRB series. It has felt a long time coming.
And even now it is only coming for a lucky 12. At home in England, there was a tangible shift in the atmosphere in camp during the lead up to selection day as silent speculation permeated the team room. This atmosphere, both exhilarating and intensely uncomfortable, was heightened this time around because it was to be Simon Amor’s first team and there was no blueprint in place from which to guess.
The juxtaposition of joy and disappointment at this time is a necessary element of team sport. It is one of those moments in between the focus and the fun that shows that this job really matters to us.
Having sat out much of last season, I know what it feels like to get up in the middle of the night to watch the live feed from half way around the world. It really is a million miles from actually being there.
Of the journeys we make to tournaments, the slog to the East coast of Australia is amongst the toughest. Arriving in the Gold Coast after two bus journeys, three flights and next to no sleep, the first day was a long hot battle to keep our eyes open before a reasonable bed time came around. Our first opponent out here was most definitely jet lag.
We tried to avoid all plane food and stick to our travel packs (miso soup sachets, protein/carb powders, protein bars, and supplementary pills). The science of circadian rhythms and stabilising the metabolism was not lost on us, but weakness might have crept in when the in-flight attendant offered hot chocolate with marshmallows!
Remi, our physiotherapist, did his best to wake us up with his early morning aerobics session. Our very own Mr Motivator has been dubbed campest man on tour!
When we are away, time is a perpetual cycle of daily schedules, divided into team meetings, meal times and training sessions. In between these engagements we have a chance to relax and switch off. The early lure of the ‘Players Room’ is quickly shattered by the Samoans and Fijians who commandeer the table tennis and PlayStation.
After being kicked off the table tennis table, it was not hard to find something else to do; we are approximately one hundred yards from one of the most famous spots on the Australian coast. With Marcus Watson firmly planted on the beach, the boys took to the waves. Of the swimmers it became clear that some body shapes are clearly better suited to body surfing than others! Just ask Tom Powell what Australian sand tastes like!
As other teams started to arrive the furtive looks returned, various nods of recognition were seen and the occasional handshake was braved. This seems to be the norm for much of the year, which is odd given that the same group of players spend the best part of three months in close proximity. One tends to learn more names from opposition team sheets than from face to face introductions.
And so we will enjoy the beach walks and whale spotting from the balcony. But two days out from the first tournament of the year, the IRB series is starting to feel very real again.
Take a look at our exclusive pictures from Down Under thanks to Tom Mitchell below.
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