English Rugby
From Ipswich Town to rugby at Wembley
Tom Hamilton
October 17, 2013
Looking for options on the Test stage © Getty Images

The weight of expectation can sometimes throw a sportsman or woman off course; it can cause them to forget their hours of training and succumb to the pressure of an expectant crowd. For Alex Goode, it was a physical, tangible weight which inspired him to pursue his dream of making a career in sport - that of an Olympic medal.

Growing up his hero was not Jonah Lomu or Christian Cullen, it was his aunt, Olympic bronze medallist Joanne Goode who came third in the Sydney games in the mixed badminton.

"She was an inspiration as I knew her and grew up around her and she was so down to earth, so level headed and worked so hard," Goode told ESPN. "I got to feel the medal and felt how heavy it was as everybody always says and that has a big impact for a young guy. For me, that was the biggest inspiration at a young age."

Goode is one of those individuals who, in the words of his agent, is annoyingly talented at sports. He tried his hand at football and was a part of Ipswich Town's academy, he also competed in the National Schools Championships in both the hurdles and the triple jump and played tennis to county level.

Football was on the agenda until he was about 13 but when his mother witnessed him falling asleep on the hour journey to and from training, they both knew it was time for him to prioritise a sport.

In his own words, rugby is a sport you grow into; it usually works alongside physical development in a young man. Goode always seemed destined for a career in sport, but it was rugby which caught his imagination for both on and off field reasons.

"It's a late developer's game," Goode explained. "I still think to this day that's one of the benefits of the game. You grow into your body and develop. I was one of those kids who had a garden full of cricket balls and tennis rackets, footballs and any type of bat. It was put out in front of you and that's how I learnt to play my sport, I played against my brother and sister and that's the best background you can have.

"It's surprising how much you can enjoy just being in front of 90,000 empty seats as you know how much that feeling has meant for so many different people before and it's fantastic"

"I was always into my rugby. The more people you get to know rugby just sucks you in. Looking back, all my school friends and people I socialised with played rugby so I hung around after training and it became a huge part of my life. I think always deep down, rugby was what I wanted to play. If you have a passion for something, you will always put more in to it."

His passion for the game and his competitive nature has paid dividends. Now aged 25, he has played for his country, on 11 occasions, and is first-choice fullback for the Aviva Premiership leaders Saracens.

Goode admits life is seldom boring at Saracens, unless you are stuck in a lift with Mouritz Botha or around Chris Ashton according to him. Whenever the club's success is mentioned, Goode seems to be one of the key protagonists.

He was retained in the Elite Player Squad on Wednesday and is in with a shout of starting at No. 15 against Australia on November 2. While some players dismiss questions of international recognition as something they haven't thought about, in the main this is mere press speak. Goode admits it is on his radar, but is keen to prevent it becoming a distraction. He adopts this when others talk up his rivals' form for the fullback jersey.

"You do think about it, it's on your mind but all players now know, that under Stuart [Lancaster] you have to be playing well for your club to get a look in. If you're playing well in the Heineken Cup, then you have a chance.

"Personally, I don't worry about what the others are doing as there's nothing I can do. It's an external factor, as I say matter-of-factly, they are good players but the more you start looking at other people, you concentrate less on your game. I expect Ben [Foden] and [Mike] Browny to play well every week and I know I have to raise my game, that's how I look at it. We'd all love that England shirt, but of course only one of us can have it."

© Getty Images

Before naming the squad for the autumn internationals, Lancaster emphasised the need for players to impress on the Heineken Cup stage. For Goode, there will be fewer better arenas to do that than at Wembley on Friday against the most successful club side in the history of the tournament, Toulouse. Saracens have taken games to Wembley in the past, but the experience always sees Goode rekindle his childhood excitement of travelling to the home of English football.

"It's a dream. As an English guy, you have all these memories. Obviously I wasn't around in 1966 but you can remember the Champions League and the FA Cup finals which have been played there. I went there when the twin towers were there and it's brilliant.

"I love going there the day before to kick some balls. It's a great experience even in an empty stadium. It's surprising how much you can enjoy just being in front of 90,000 empty seats as you know how much that feeling has meant for so many different people before and it's fantastic."

With Goode, there will be no risk of the pressure getting to him on Friday, you feel he will thrive under the weight of expectation. Although just 25, he has played in front of capacity crowds, beaten the All Blacks and lifted a Premiership title. Rugby's gain is, thankfully, football's loss.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.

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