Flying the flag where England’s revival developed

THE desired end game will, of course, be played out at Twickenham on Saturday, October 31.

Ben Foden.
Ben Foden.

However, if England do go on to lift the Rugby World Cup that evening and finally emulate the feats of 2003, one of the crucial building blocks to success will be traced back to the unexpected outpost of Leeds.

When Stuart Lancaster took charge of the national side after the debacle of the last World Cup in 2011, one of his first decisions was to forsake the usual Six Nations warm-weather training trip to Portugal.

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Instead, he took the England squad – many of whom had so badly under-performed in New Zealand – to a far less glamorous destination and the city where he made his name as Leeds Carnegie head coach.

It was part of his bid to remind those players just who they represent when pulling on the England jersey and just what they are trying to achieve.

Ben Foden, the Northampton Saints full-back who ventured north with them in 2012 and again the following year, admits it was a master-stroke and something that has helped fashion a new England, who head into this autumn’s tournament in a far superior state.

“It was a difficult period and a lot of things happened at that World Cup that had not really gone the way the coaches at the time wanted,” he recalled.

“A lot of people stepped down afterwards and Lanny took over initially on a temporary basis.

“He knew his way around Leeds, knew the facilities we could use, had links with people at Carnegie and Leeds Rhinos and he felt comfortable there.

“He wanted to choose a lot of different players (to 2011) and there was a transition from some older players to younger ones ready to build for 2015.

“He wanted to get everyone away from the norm. I remember we had a meeting up there and we talked about what we wanted to achieve as England rugby and the culture we wanted.

“It was very clever what he did. Jamie Peacock, from Leeds Rhinos, came down to give us a talk and it was good to get that input from another sport.

“A lot of rugby union players love watching Super League and Peacock is obviously a legend in that game who has led the England RL team.

“It was great for our young players to hear what he had to say; we hear it a lot from union people but it’s inspirational to hear it from other sports, too, and I remember we did pretty well in that Six Nations.

“Every now and then it’s good to get away from London and Pennyhill Park (England’s Surrey training base) and it was interesting being in Leeds instead, somewhere where union’s not as big and you could wander around more incognito.”

Foden, 30, is in Leeds again promoting the ‘Emirates’ World Cup Flag Bearers’ competition.

Having hidden two flags in the city, children aged 14 to 16 are urged to find them and win the rare chance to lead a team out of the tunnel at one of the two World Cup games – Italy v Canada and Scotland v USA – being held at Leeds United’s Elland Road in September.

He is facing a race against time, though, to prove his own worth for the tournament, having not played since rupturing his left knee anterior cruciate ligament with Saints in January.

England’s 45-man squad is training in America but only two of that group – Mike Brown and Alex Goode – are recognised full-backs like Foden.

He has won 34 caps for his country, including appearances in the 2011 World Cup, but previous knee and ankle problems means he has now not represented them for 18 months.

However, Foden is back in pre-season training and added: “It’s all good. I’ve been in for two-and-a-half weeks now and done everything asked of me.

“I’m feeling confident and getting my lungs back. I’m a bit ring-rusty but have some games to get that back and I’m like a few others who have missed out; if something happens, like injuries or players lose form, I’m waiting on tenterhooks to see if they call.

“The squad gets whittled down to 31 for the World Cup so we’ll have to wait and see.

“As for our chances, this squad will be hungry and there is a good blend of players. What Lanny has done, and not always through choice but due to injuries or form, is blood a lot of younger players who now have a lot more experience than expected.

“People like Jonathan Joseph, who came in last season and did so well, mean we have a lot of different attacking edges and different styles of players with a mix of youth and experience.

“There’s guys who have been to a World Cup and done it before and those younger ones who haven’t and are eager to show the world they can be the best.”

Ben Foden is an Emirates ambassador for Rugby, encouraging young fans to find the flag hidden in Leeds on the 25th of July to win the chance to lead a team out at Rugby World Cup 2015. Visit Emirates Facebook, Twitter or Instagram to follow the #EmiratesFlag.