Flat-packing and patisserie runs: how England switch off from World Cup

When the England squad reconvenes to get back into their World Cup groove on Thursday, Jonny May could find himself in hot water. By his own admission, the very fact he has disclosed how Joe Marler is in charge of a fines system, where punishments include having to wear a suit for a day, or doing a run to the patisserie, is likely to leave him at the mercy of the dice, which ultimately determine what sanction players face.

It is a stay of execution for May, though, because most of the squad have taken the opportunity to disperse to all corners of France – they have been instructed not to return to the UK – after Steve Borthwick gave his players a few days off. The bye week is a quirk of this tournament – and it means that should England reach the final week of the World Cup they will have been away from home for nearly nine weeks – so understandably, the bulk of the squad have snapped up the chance to have a change of scenery.

Freddie Steward has ventured more than 500 miles from England’s team base in Le Touquet to Nice while Disneyland has proved popular with players who have young families. Henry Arundell, fresh from his five tries against Chile, has made for Paris to familiarise himself with his new surroundings, having agreed a move to Racing 92 after the World Cup. As May reveals: “I think he has got someone putting his Ikea flat pack stuff up for him.”

Others have chosen to stay at base camp, where families are visiting. Dan Cole, Max Malins and Ben Earl have all been spotted taking advantage of their down time and although management were allowed to briefly nip home to the UK, the scrum coach Tom Harrison enjoyed the weekend with his wife and son and “found the one bar that served cider over here and enjoyed myself”.

May, for his part, is not venturing far from the hotel because his wife, Soph, and newborn son, Jaxon, are in town. “The day goes in two-and-a-half hour blocks, and in that he needs a feed, a nap and a change and from then we go on to the next block,” he adds. “In those blocks we took him to the gym, I did a bit in the gym, we took him swimming in one of the blocks and we get our food in as well. It is a bit of a contrast and a different type of fatigue.”

Not that he is complaining. This is May’s third World Cup and after three pool stage wins that take England to the verge of the quarter-finals, the winger is aware of how intense things can become in the business end of the tournament. “I remember from last time in the knockouts it definitely does go up a level and it is intense. So let’s take a breath a little bit, try and unwind a bit. I would say we are in a good spot and happy with how the tournament has started with three very good results. I feel like the team is tight, the team is improving, everybody has got a good game under their belts and it is time to take a break.”

Joe Marler
Joe Marler is responsible for the fines system with punishments including a run to the patisserie. Photograph: David Davies/PA

There are limits to what players can do – they have still be issued fitness plans by the strength and conditioning coach, Aled Walters – while Harrison is still watching endless videos of scrums but evidently, given the state in which England came into the tournament and the position in which they now find themselves, there is a relaxed air.

Arundell’s five-try heroics certainly helped in that regard and May – who was rested against Chile – believes the 20-year-old has the world at his feet.

“We couldn’t really believe it,” said May. “We were counting them all up by the end. Everybody has a smile on their face when he walked in. We were all taking the mick a little bit. He knows he’s had a special game and he’ll remember that for the rest of his life. I’ve got a feeling he’ll have lots of special days ahead of him.

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“What he’s got is his X-factor. He’s got quite a good understanding of the game, a good skill set. I think he could comfortably play full-back as well which is something I still wouldn’t feel comfortable doing now. I don’t want to sound patronising, we play in the same position and I have a lot of respect for him as a colleague, but it’s learning those experiences and developing through those types of games. Test matches can vary so much. You don’t get to choose what questions you get asked in a Test match, you’ve just got to answer them as best as you can.”

Indeed, Arundell had struggled on his two previous England starts but May revealed how he had advised his fellow speedster that comes with the territory at Test level. “He’s probably had a couple of games where he’s been scratching his head at half-time thinking this isn’t what I had planned,” added May. “Sometimes that’s just how it goes; it’s more about not making a mistake and just simmering. I said to him that some days you don’t even get to shoot your gun but don’t get frustrated.

“I think he’s going to get lots of ball and lots of opportunities at Racing. I think he’s going to improve under Lanny [Stuart Lancaster], playing in that league, playing in big games … I think that’s a great move for him. He’s 20 … what more could he be possibly hoping to do right now?Everyone around him needs to learn from him, support him and help develop him. He’s an important part of this team and we need to get him firing.”

source: theguardian.com