Dave Attwood admits he began the week faced with the “horrific” dilemma of choosing between playing for England or attending the birth of his first child.
Attwood’s involvement in today’s QBE Series opener against New Zealand at Twickenham was plunged into doubt when last Friday’s due date came and went, resulting in contingency plans being drawn up by the England management.
The decision was taken out of the Bath lock’s hands when fiancee Bridget gave birth to daughter Jessica on Tuesday, bringing relief to a new father who was acutely aware of the need to seize the chance presented when Joe Launchbury had been ruled out of the autumn internationals with a neck injury.
“It was horrific really. Emotionally, there were two very big battlefields,” said Attwood.
“The first is being supportive of my fiancee, being present at the birth of my child and doing everything I can to help them out. The first child is once-in-a-lifetime. You will never get to re-do that.
“And then obviously this game holds particular significance for me because my first cap was against New Zealand.
“It has been my best start to a season ever and that has resulted in me being here and I would like to argue that’s happened on merit.
“Obviously with the next 12 months shaping up as they are, this is the time to stand up and be counted.
“I can’t stress how high a price I put on this game – before this autumn came along, before we even knew there was a pregnancy in the family.
“And then on Monday morning I’m sitting there, thinking ‘Oh my word, could you not hurry up and have the baby?’ She arrived on Tuesday and it was a dream.
“It’s been a crazy week containing probably two of the biggest events of my life to date.
“If things had happened Saturday morning, I would have played the game (and missed the birth). But if things had happened on Friday, or even Friday night, I would have gone back (to his family).”
England head coach Stuart Lancaster dismissed any suggestion the events of this week may have left his second-row ill-prepared to face New Zealand and Attwood himself views Jessica’s arrival as a source of strength.
“I had an interesting conversation with (scrum-half) Danny Care about ‘dad strength’ and how every little facet of your life gets a little extra gilt edge,” he said. “You push a little more with everything you do because you’re a lot more responsible. You have a greater awareness and perspective of everything you do and its impact.
“We talk about that not necessarily in terms of how much you can bench press but the fact you could pull a tree out of the ground and batter someone with it. Not the standard strength tests!
“On Tuesday night, Jessica slept the whole night through. I think they quite often do but we were still sat there thinking ‘Er, what was that? Is she dead? Is she sleeping?’
“We sat up wide awake panicking – ‘what do we do now, what do we do now?’ So we spent all of Tuesday sat bolt upright and didn’t get a lot of sleep.
“That gives you a lot of perspective that’s incredibly powerful. On Saturday, I’m sure at some point I’ll drop a ball or give away a penalty or do something stupid.
“And I’ll get back on the horse straight away and realise that it doesn’t matter and that it won’t affect how you’re going to be playing the rest of the game.”