All-action Webber hungry for national service

England's Rob Webber
England's Rob Webber
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Rob Webber is an agitated spectator.

“I find it hard to watch,” he says. “Not through any sort of ill means. I’m just desperate to get out there and affect the game.

“I understand the frustrations of a fan; because you cannot get out there and do anything about it.”

Seventy-two minutes into England’s first Twickenham appearance of the Six Nations, Webber finally got the chance to do something about a game that was tense, deadlocked and on a knife edge.

He had sat twitching on the bench throughout the entire game during the win over Scotland in Edinburgh.

His debut was then put on hold a further 75 minutes in Rome, until Stuart Lancaster finally unleashed his caged animal into the record books as the latest man to wear the white of England in a Test match.

The Eternal City’s snow-covered Stadio Olimpico was an intimidating arena in which to make his debut.

But like all English rugby players, the moment Webber wanted to encounter and savour more than any other was running out of the tunnel, his Red Rose-adorned chest puffed out, into the noise of Twickenham.

“The crowd was fantastic. You have got so much going on either side of you, and although that can be hard to handle, it’s certainly worth it,” he says of the experience.

“That game against Wales was the greatest atmosphere I’ve ever been a part of and I want to taste it again.”

Just as in Rome it was not the easiest of introductions.

Webber had no time to spin 360 degrees, drink in the atmosphere or look for his family and friends who had travelled down from Pocklington to support him, offering them a proud wave as if to say ‘look how far I’ve come’.

England were locked at 12-12 with grand slam aspirations on the line. Scott Williams then stripped Courtney Lawes of possession, chipped ahead and raced for the line in a move that began to chip away at some of the sheen Lancaster had brought to the England team.

“It is tough to come on in those situations,” says Webber, “but I have to say thanks to the coaches for having the faith to put me on there.

“It could have been easy for them to stick with what was out there. So I’m grateful for that chance, and it’s then my job to go and get stuck in.

“You don’t have time to let situations like that pass you by. I’m finding that out quite quickly from my two games and three involvements so far.

“I loved it at Twickenham, loved being out there and I just want to keep getting involved.

“I was hugely proud to get my debut in Rome. It was everything I had worked for throughout my whole rugby life.

“I’m absolutely made up. I’m grateful for the opportunity to be a part of this team.

“I want more involvement. My job now is to keep working hard in training, that’s all any of us can do.

“Keep grafting when you get on the pitch and keep putting your hand up when you get the opportunity.”

Webber – who is ending his long association with Wasps at the end of the season by signing for Bath – is likely to have to put up with fidgeting on the bench in the Stade de France on Sunday.

Dylan Hartley, a player he packed down with for the England Under-19s, has the No 2 shirt sewn up for the time being.

But in his short time in charge, Lancaster has fostered a spirit of togetherness that is helping this new-look England side repair the damage done to the public image of the international set-up. Part of that process is letting no player rest on their laurels.

No-one’s place in Lancaster’s revolution is safe.

Leeds academy graduate Webber says: “When that first EPS squad was announced, it raised a few eyebrows from certain people, but full credit to Stuart and the coaches, they’ve picked people who are in form in the Premiership.

“And we’ve repaid him with two wins out of three, although it could have been three out of three. To push Wales, the form side, for so long and dominate most facets of that game, to then lose it in the last few minutes and then be denied the draw is very frustrating.

“That’s the first time this side has lost, the crowd was fantastic, as was the whole occasion, and we were just bitterly disappointed that we couldn’t deliver the win.

“In all honesty, we did play a bit better against Wales than we had done in previous weeks.

“We showed more with ball in hand and again our defence was outstanding.

“The guys who were out there from the start were fantastic, there weren’t too many line breaks and we knocked them back a few times.

“We thought we’d scored through David Strettle at the end. It was a split-second decision from the referee and unfortunately we didn’t get the rub of the green this time, that’s the way it is, we have to come back stronger.”

England return to Pennyhill Park today to continue their preparations for Sunday’s trip to France.

The hurt of Wales was banished long before they met at Loughborough last week.

“We’re by no means the finished article, we know that, but we want this group to stay together a long time, and I certainly want to be a part of it for a long time,” says Webber.

“If we keep building, keep taking the positives out of every match we play then we will get there. The mark of this side now is how we dust ourselves off and come back for France away.”