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Going from the Six Nations back to club rugby can be frustrating

The Guardian logo The Guardian 22/03/2019 Ugo Monye

Editor’s note: The opinions in this article are the author’s, as published by our content partner, and do not necessarily represent the views of MSN or Microsoft.

Former England international, now BT Sport rugby pundit Ugo Monye looks on during the Aviva Premiership match between Gloucester Rugby and Exeter Chiefs at Kingsholm Stadium on September 1, 2017 in Gloucester, England.  (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images) © 2017 Getty Images Former England international, now BT Sport rugby pundit Ugo Monye looks on during the Aviva Premiership match between Gloucester Rugby and Exeter Chiefs at Kingsholm Stadium on September 1, 2017 in Gloucester, England. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

The hardest thing about going from a Six Nations campaign back to your club is mindset. When you are in camp with England, every member of the squad is trying to become a better player, to make incremental improvements every day. For a number of reasons that is not the case at a club and that can be really frustrating as a returning international.

At any given Premiership club, at this stage of the season contract negotiations have been finalised. You have some players retiring, some still looking for clubs, some who are angry or disillusioned because they are not being retained and inevitably there are those within a 40- or 50-man squad who are winding down. Compare that with the England setup with such exacting standards and making that transition can be tough.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 16: Jonny May of England scores his team's fourth try during the Guinness Six Nations match between England and Scotland at Twickenham Stadium on March 16, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images) © Catalyst Images LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 16: Jonny May of England scores his team's fourth try during the Guinness Six Nations match between England and Scotland at Twickenham Stadium on March 16, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

The players who have been involved with England have been surrounded by the best coaches, the best fitness experts and the best support network. They have been ensconced in a five-star facility with pretty much everything provided for them to ensure they are purpose-built to perform at the weekend. Beneficial as that can be, it is intense. You do not have that level of support at club level but what you do have are the benefits of just going home and living a little. You may not have access to physios at all hours of the day but you can switch off after training, just go for a coffee or go home and be a husband and a father again. Playing for England is an incredible honour but even some of the best have struggled with it.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 16: Sam Johnson of Scotland scores his team's sixth try during the Guinness Six Nations match between England and Scotland at Twickenham Stadium on March 16, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images) © Catalyst Images LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 16: Sam Johnson of Scotland scores his team's sixth try during the Guinness Six Nations match between England and Scotland at Twickenham Stadium on March 16, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

Look at Joe Marler, who has retired from international rugby. Part of the struggle for Joe was being away from home. Returning to that familiarity will be a sweet tonic for some.

It is a completely different stimulus when you are playing for your club rather than international rugby. You have been playing in stadiums of 80,000-plus, the fans are passionate, there are bitter, longstanding rivalries and then you go back to a slightly diluted version of that. You have to adjust. There will be some players going to clubs who have been waiting for their internationals to come back and fix their problems. I look at Leicester: they are sat 10th in the Premiership, so players like George Ford, Ellis Genge, Manu Tuilagi, Jonny May are having to go and rescue their season, and that pressure is completely unrelenting. We have seen them perform at international level but Leicester need that quality now, starting with Northampton and the East Midlands derby on Friday.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 16: Ellis Genge of England during the Guinness Six Nations match between England and Scotland at Twickenham Stadium on March 16, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by Henry Browne/Getty Images)

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 16: Ellis Genge of England during the Guinness Six Nations match between England and Scotland at Twickenham Stadium on March 16, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by Henry Browne/Getty Images)
© 2019 Getty Images

You also have to treat individuals separately. Someone like Ford has not had a lot of game-time and he will be desperate to get back on the pitch from the start for Leicester. He will be really happy to be back in the club environment where he is fully appreciated and can show his true worth.

Then you have someone like Mark Wilson at Newcastle. He has been one of England’s best performers since he nailed down his spot in the team and Newcastle cannot wait to get their hands on him because they are in a relegation battle. It is something Mark has probably not given much thought to but Newcastle will be looking to him to change their fortunes.

EXETER, ENGLAND - MARCH 20:  Jack Nowell of Exeter Chiefs releases a pass during a training session at Sandy Park on March 20, 2019 in Exeter, England. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images) © Catalyst Images EXETER, ENGLAND - MARCH 20: Jack Nowell of Exeter Chiefs releases a pass during a training session at Sandy Park on March 20, 2019 in Exeter, England. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

These players have been extracted from one environment and put into another. It will do some a lot of good while others may not want to play, but their clubs need them. You cannot forget that, as much as it is unbelievable to be part of the Six Nations, the clubs pay the wages. Ultimately it is up to them to decide how they use their assets. Some will need a rest but for others it is more important to get points on the board.

The returning players are also having to spin a couple of plates. They are having to do their duty – be a leader as one of the club’s senior players – but at the back of their minds will be the longer-term goal of the World Cup. There are only a maximum of 11 weeks of club matches for any player.

That is not a lot of time so it is not a case of decompressing, of taking your foot off the gas – that is the relentless nature of a World Cup year. You have to have that responsibility to stand head and shoulders above everyone else. You’re an international and have to justify it.

You may also be playing against people you have been working with for the last two months but I always enjoyed playing against the people I knew the best. It is an opportunity to get one over on your teammate and put another marker down.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 16:  Eddie Jones,  the England head coach looks on during the Guinness Six Nations match between England and Scotland at Twickenham Stadium on March 16, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by David Rogers - RFU/The RFU Collection via Getty Images) © 2019 The RFU LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 16: Eddie Jones, the England head coach looks on during the Guinness Six Nations match between England and Scotland at Twickenham Stadium on March 16, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by David Rogers - RFU/The RFU Collection via Getty Images)

And it is a battle that Eddie Jones will enjoy watching. He will be really disappointed if he sees any of his players, emotionally difficult as it is to get yourself back to those levels, have a major drop-off. He will not want his players counting the days to the World Cup training camp. Eddie will want to see leaders in their clubs. Leadership was a problem for England in 2015 and the problem is springing back up again.

On top of that you have the players who feel a bit hard done by or have missed out on the Six Nations because of injury, and are looking to prove a point. Look at Jonathan Joseph, who may be up against Henry Slade on Sunday. Slade was one of the standout players of the tournament so what an opportunity for Joseph. It is how you use that frustration of missing out, trying to put some form together between now and the end of the season.

There are a lot of those guys – Mike Brown, Chris Robshaw, Joseph and Danny Care, who goes head-to-head with Ben Spencer as Harlequins face Saracens this weekend. It is a weekend full of subplots and that only adds to the enjoyment.


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