by Nigel Melville
Nigel Melville Direct
Looking back its amazing how you have such vivid memories of special events in your life as if they were just yesterday. This week brought the memories flooding back when Chris Robshaw was named as the captain of England this week with just one cap to his name.
It was 1984, I was living in a house full of Wasps players including one scrum half (me) and three stand-offs, Huw Davies an England international, Mark Williams who went on the play countless times for the USA Eagles (not many people know Mark and I lived together in London) and Mike Boyd. The house was in Uxbridge town centre providing us with a direct tube line to central London (work) and then to Wembley (Wasps) before returning home after training with Neil Porter a Kiwi loosehead prop in his car!
On that memorable Sunday morning, Derek Morgan the Chairman of the Selectors called me to break the news, I had been selected to play against Australia the following weekend, and then as he was about to put down the phone he said 'oh, before I forget, you will be captaining the side' and he put the phone down.
I was pretty excited as you can imagine, but the response of Huw who was eating toast and reading a paper in the front room was exactly what you would expect from him. He looked up from his newspaper and said, 'oh hard luck old boy', and asked if he was playing, I had no idea!
Anyway, once the news broke, the media loved it, and the circus came to town.
In those days, the team weren't permitted to meet until 48 hours before the game, but we had a training session in Worcester on the Monday night, it rained, everyone was still pretty banged up from the previous weekend's games, and so it was a long drive and a short session. I knew all the players, many of them had come up through the ranks with me playing for England at various levels, so we were all pretty excited.
Saturday arrived, and my only concern really was my first pass of the game, what if I messed it up and had a terrible game? Amazingly, all our Clubs played with the new Mitre Mulitplex balls, a totally different ball to the traditional leather ball provided by Gilbert for international games. The Gilbert ball was lighter, thinner, and would you believe it, smooth leather with laces, and they put dubin on the ball to keep the water out and stop it getting heavy during the game. Not good for a scrum half with a long pass on a windy day, a very small stand off (Stuart Barnes) and extremely long grass....made for big slow ugly back row men....
The first pass came very quickly after kick-off, Stuart Barnes was standing miles a way, the grass appeared to be up to his knees, all I could see was a tiny body, so I threw it hard and it hit the target - huge relief for us both!
Minutes later I was chasing back for a kick from opposing scrum half Nick Farr Jones, as I ran back I heard the whistle blow and crowd went mad. I looked back and Nick was lying on the floor, standing next to him was out loose-head prop Gareth Chilcott looking anything but innocent! The referee called me over, Nick was getting attention and making the most of the opportunity, and Gareth promptly accused Nick of running into him - the referee seemed pretty nervous and maybe a little threatened, so we kept all 15 players on the field.
Did we win, no we lost, to the 1984 Grand Slam Wallabies, 19-9, but it was certainly a memorable day.
The big lesson I learnt that week was a valuable one for years to come. For a team to be successful, everyone has to play their part. The team is a sum of the parts, everyone has a job to do and they should focus on that job. My pass being accurate to Stuart Barnes at Twickenham was far more important than tossing coins, attending press conferences and making after match speeches. On the field, there were calls to be made but it was always important to make sure we were all heading in the same direction - performance focused and motivated to be the best we could be.
When I made my England debut it was the start of a new era. Injury denied me a chance to play in the 1991 Rugby World Cup where the England team reached the final, however, the team building started in 1984. England today turn another page, 2015 is just around the corner, the England fans can be pretty unforgiving, but they must stay with the team as they start this process, and they have the talent to make another World Cup Final.
With an impressive resume as player, coach and administrator, Nigel David Melville took over as CEO and President of Rugby Operations of USA Rugby, the National Governing Body of the sport in America, in 2006. In addition to his full time job promoting the sport in the U.S., Melville has launched his own blog, Nigel Melville Direct, to further the discussion and his passion for what it will take to make the U.S. a great rugby playing nation.
CLICK HERE to read more on Nigel Melville
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