By Ossian Shine
TOKYO (Reuters) – Five days ago Ben Spencer was sitting at home, feeding his children and watching England’s breathtaking Rugby World Cup semi-final win over the All Blacks. Now, the emergency scrumhalf is in Tokyo and ready to fire for England in Saturday’s final.
“I’ve not really had chance to process the whole situation yet,” the 27-year-old told reporters on Thursday, as he pondered facing South Africa at Yokohama Stadium.
“It’s been a crazy few days, it’s been a brilliant few days, getting back into the squad, it’s been mental, really.
“I don’t quite have the story of Stephen Donald,” he laughed, “I wasn’t on a boat fishing… I was just at home, feeding the kids and got the phone call. I’m just really excited to get stuck in.”
Having been cut after being part of England’s pre-World Cup training camp in Treviso, Italy, Spencer’s first — and only — slice of World Cup action is expected to come in the final. The fairytale scenario is not without precedent, though.
In 2011 New Zealand’s fourth-choice flyhalf Stephen Donald was tracked down on a fishing holiday, after an All Black injury crisis. He was an unused substitute in the semi-final but ended up kicking the winning penalty in the final against France.
Donald had never expected to be drafted in, and could not have been described as fully match fit.
“Ben will have a shirt that fits him, so that’s one significant difference,” England coach Eddie Jones joked earlier in the week when asked about parallels.
Spencer had kept himself ready for the unexpected, though, and when Willi Heinz hurt his hamstring in the semi-final his foresight paid off.
“Obviously (Eddie) spoken about being in the best condition of your life, the best condition of your career, and so I’ve worked hard back at the club since I’ve been back there,” he said.
“I’d just been doing a bit of extra stuff at Saracens.
“In terms of jetlag I’ve been OK. First night was fine, second night was a little bit tough, but I seem to be in the swing of things now, so I’m alright.”
Spencer has come off the bench as a late replacement three times for England, twice on last year’s tour of South Africa and also against Scotland in the Six Nations in March, playing five, eight and seven minute cameos.
Heinz has stayed with the squad and has helped Spencer get up to speed. “Just in terms of the specific jobs as a nine within the team,” Spencer said.
“We’ve just gone over a few bits defensively. So both Benny (Youngs) and Willi have been great so far.”
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)