By Ossian Shine
TOKYO (Reuters) – A Japanese voice thunders out of a megaphone and political slogans drown out the voices on a Tokyo nightclub roof garden. Will Greenwood holds his head in his hands.
“You hear the Tannoy now, right?” the rugby World Cup winner asked during a break in the cacophony.
“That Tannoy is relevant, because that volume was the level of fear and self-doubt I had in my head.”
Greenwood played a key role in England’s last, and only, Rugby World Cup triumph in 2003 when they beat Australia in a dramatic extra-time final in Sydney.
This weekend Eddie Jones’s England team will seek to replicate that feat when they face South Africa in Tokyo, and the 47-year-old reached back into his memory to tell Reuters what the current crop will be going through right now.
“I had this the whole time: ‘Oh my god, oh my god, don’t lose… Oh my god, oh my god don’t make the error’. (People think) ‘No, no, you were all serene and calm… (but) that’s like a front in press conferences,” he said at an event hosted by Rugby World Cup partner Land Rover.
“My perspective was Monday, Tuesday, ‘We’re in a World Cup final, baby, this is why we play’… Wednesday, Thursday, ‘Oh my god, do not mess this up’.
“Left on my own, demons, thoughts, total and utter fear… just slept, just slept… The only way I could quieten the Tannoy is if I am sleeping or in the cinema, which I then end up sleeping in.
“Friday, pushing the food round the plate feeling physically sick, going ‘I can’t do this, I can’t do this, I can’t do this…’ emotional energy spent…
“Saturday morning, ‘Whoah, game day’. Saturday afternoon I’m back in it, I’m alright. So, they’ll all have their stories to tell. They’ll all have their inner demons to struggle with… some may not, and they are the most blessed people or they have listened to the psychologists and haven’t completely ignored them like I always did, which is possibly part of the problem,” he smiled.
Ultimately, key for Greenwood was routine and familiarity, which, he said, helped slay the demons.
“You know people go to work and they put a suit on and they’re a lawyer, or they have an outfit and they’re a plumber or they’re a builder, or they’re an engineer. They go to work; they’re in work mode.
“For me, sticking the England tracksuit on on a Saturday was work mode, and I could just release (the demons) and go through the processes.”
ENGLAND BY 10 OR 12
Greenwood said that before this World Cup he had cooled on the seemingly invincible All Blacks, saying he felt they had shown signs of weakness.
England beat the three-times and defending champions in a breathtaking semi-final on Saturday.
The 2003 champion has instead been mentally backing England’s opponents from 12 months back – until that sensational 19-7 England win over New Zealand.
“To ignore last Saturday, and what England did, would be like blind faith in what I said 12 months ago,” Greenwood said.
“Just because you voted Remain or Brexit (in Britain’s EU referendum of 2016), actually you might then listen to the arguments, and the point of democracy is you can change your mind and then go ‘actually I have now listened to all the arguments, and I think sport is like that.
“You can’t just say because of what you saw 12 months ago… I go much more form horse, short-term, quality I’ve seen, and I think England will win this by 10 or 12 points and will shut out the Springboks.
“The defensive press will be too much, it will force South Africa to do something they don’t want to do. You might go, ‘Look at those blooming rose-tinted spectacles he’s wearing’, but I’m going on what I saw, and have seen the past few weeks.
“I think they’ve got to stay true to what they did, which is keep the tempo high, keep the pace high, get those pullback balls going around the corner having All Black defenders guessing – I mean guessing – who’s getting the ball, and if they do that then England will put themselves in very good shape to do something that hasn’t been done for 15 years and 345 days.”
(Reporting by Ossian Shine; Editing by Hugh Lawson)