England in New Zealand 2014
Time for England to show what they are made of
June 2, 2014
Matt Mullan has a chance to shine this tour © Getty Images
This tour of New Zealand could be a 'Sliding Doors' moment for a few players. It's going to be difficult and even though having players missing is disappointing, it is what it is. But with the right mindset, there is a hell of a lot to get out of this tour.
To call this tour a learning curve is wrong, we know it is going to be bloody tough but reputation does not mean anything in New Zealand. They don't really care about names or status, they care about the now and what they see in front of them. It is a young England team and they can go and show what English rugby is all about at the moment. You don't want to paper over the cracks, but it's an exciting time for those on the tour to really show what they are made of.
We had a similar opportunity back in 1998 but it did not go to plan as we lost heavily to Australia and then suffered back-to-back defeats against the All Blacks. But it was a tour that played a massive part in my development.
I was a young kid learning the game but I really enjoyed the tour and the experience but of course the results weren't great. I learnt a massive amount about myself and about what rugby was. I'm not sure if I came out with masses of credit but I was one of the guys picked out who the England coaches were happy with and someone who gave it his all. It was not a great experience in terms of results but it was special.
I learnt so much about myself.
I thought I was decent at the time and while I didn't think the game was easy, we went there as big fishes. But then you face the best teams in the world and you realise you are nowhere near it. You then have two choices - either you go and do something about it or you go and cry in your porridge.
It was never my nature to give up and rest on my laurels, it bloody hurt losing. It hurt my pride, my country, my rose and Queen and it was a case of using that tour as a driving force for the rest of my career. I always give Clive Woodward a huge amount of credit for coming back from that tour and the RFU for backing him after that. It was the wake-up call we needed which eventually led to 2003.
Some of the guys in the front-row who are lower down the pecking order will have a chance to play against the All Blacks and I really hope they make the most of it. Matt Mullan is someone who interests me and he is likely to experience the high intensity of Test rugby at some point over the next three weeks with Mako Vunipola and Alex Corbisiero out.
I have a question mark over him regarding when a match gets really physical and even if he is restricted to coming off the bench for Joe Marler, he deserves his chance. He did well moving to Wasps and leaving the comfort zone at Worcester and he has a great opportunity on this tour to really show what he is made of.
One thing about the All Blacks is their multi-phase, frantic style of rugby may suit Matt as he's an intelligent player - well you have to be if you're in the front-row. He knows what the game is about but he'll have to front up in the physical side of the game, but you can say that about a lot of the other guys as well. But if anyone deserves a good tour it's him. He's had some big injuries but has come back, done well at Wasps after having the guts to change club and I really hope he takes his opportunity over there.
For every member of the 30-man squad who arrived last week, what they will have to remember is that they are always on show, even in their downtime. We saw how badly that can go in the last World Cup and they most cope in the goldfish bowl of rugby-mad New Zealand.
This England team has a responsibility to put right some of those things that went wrong back in 2011. They need to get some respect back for the England jersey down there and while I sincerely hope they enjoy themselves, the country and the atmosphere, they do remember what it is they are there for, which is representing their country positively and showing the Kiwis what they are made of.
The All Blacks do not care about reputations or names © Getty Images
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