RUGBY WORLD CUP: Inside the England camp... with Northampton physio Phil Pask

The England squad board their flight to Japan
The England squad board their flight to Japan

England kick off their 2019 Rugby World Cup campaign on Sunday morning, when they take on Tonga in Japan.

Eddie Jones' men will be hoping to get their campaign off to a winning start when they take on the Pacific Islanders in the Sapporo Dome in Sapporo.

Piers Francis and his mini team in Cornwall

Piers Francis and his mini team in Cornwall

It has been a long build up to the tournament, which kicked off on Friday morning, and one man who has been up close and personal with Jones and his squad is Northampton-based physio Phil Pask.

The former Saints player has been a part of the England medical team for many years now, and has now started a new role within the RFU.

He is the external consultant physiotherapist to the England team, which means he is with the squad during all training camps and tournaments.

Pask, of Witty, Pask & Buckingham Physios on Billing Road in Northampton, was with the England squad throughout the RWC build up.

Penny Hill Park

Penny Hill Park

He has travelled to Japan as of yet, as he is staying in the UK to keep an eye on the players who missed out on selection, but may yet get called up due to injury at any time over the next seven weeks.

Pask is still very much a man in the England camp though, and today we publish the first of his exclusive Rugby World Cup Diaries...

Here we are, all ready for the start Rugby World Cup 2019 in Japan.

The past two months will have seen all the national teams 'torturing' their players during the pre-tournament training camps.

The squad head from Treviso to Newcastle

The squad head from Treviso to Newcastle

Selections have been made from extended squads, with ecstatic players having made the team, and others devastated not to have made the plane trip to Japan earlier this week.

The players that have travelled are all in peak condition, skills honed and anticipating what is going to be a fantastic experience and a chance to be part of something special.

I am happy to report that England are in tip top form, and that the Saints can be so proud to have the three players in Lewis Ludlum, Piers Francis and the incomparable Courtney Lawes as integral parts of the squad.

I just wanted to give you an overview of how England have been preparing for this World Cup challenge, and give an indication of what shape we are in – to win it!

The hydration station pitch side in Treviso

The hydration station pitch side in Treviso

In my new role as consultant physiotherapist with the squad, it’s a bit more like the old days for me as I am only with the boys during training camps and tournaments.

However, the eagle eyed amongst you may have spotted me pitch side during the last warm-up match against Italy – some people just can’t give up!

The squad assembled back on the June 23 for two weeks of mini training camps at our training facility at Penny Hill Park hotel down in Bagshot.

These short training camps did not include players from Exeter Chiefs or Saracens as they were still on their breaks, but gave a chance for the coaches to have a good look at players from the extended squad.

The second of these weeks was a team building survival type challenge with the RAF down in Newquay.

This included a flight in a Hercules down to the south west, a night under the stars preparing their shelters and food, and lots of land and water-based tasks .

England's Miyasaki training ground

England's Miyasaki training ground

These were all performed in mini teams to test both individual and group mentality and toughness.

The coaches, doc and I were there to observe.

These tasks certainly reveal character under duress and lack of sleep, for both us and the coaches!

Players had the chance to impress and force themselves in to the main training squad to follow – and that is just what Lewis and Piers did.

Their attitude, determination and ability shown in these early weeks grabbed the coaches' attentions, especially those of Eddie Jones.

Week three saw the first of the main RWC Training camps begin with more than 40 players coming in for the period leading up to August 12, when EJ was to name his 31-player squad.

The squad was named early after the warm up game on August 12 to allow players to know where they stood, wither in the squad going to Japan or in reserve back at their clubs.

And those left behind at their clubs know they have to keep as fit as they can in case of emergency call up later on, which always happens!

This block of training obviously included a lot of strength and conditioning but also an awful lot of technical and skill-based activity using a variety of special coaches.

EJ even brought back into camp Sheryll Calder, the eye coach from South Africa, who was initially brought in by Clive Woodward back in 2002 and worked so well with players like Jonny Wilkinson.

It also included, as has the whole training camp, regular changes in training venues as we moved from PHP, to the Lensbury in London and on to Bristol.

This was a deliberate policy by EJ and his coaches to get us all used to moving between venues efficiently and smoothly as possible with minimal stress – as this is exactly what will happen during the tournament in Japan.

A couple of weeks in Treviso, north west corner of Italy, was included in this block.

This spot was chosen as an appropriate ‘heat and humidity” acclimatisation venue as the weather here was going to be very similar to what the players would experience in Japan.

This allowed the players to get used to training and playing in such conditions, but also allowed us to test out our management systems to cope with things such as excessive heat and dehydration.

The irony is that for a couple of days during this time, it was hotter and more humid in UK!

On return from Italy, the boys had a few days home with their families to relax before the first of four warm-up games.

I was able to continue a bit of work with Courtney back in Northampton as he was doing a little extra rehab running.

We arranged to meet down at the Saints to use the pitch – as it was a Sunday we would have the whole place to ourselves – an in and out job.

Simple you would think?

Typically, the always laid back CL had to make an emergency stop for petrol on the way down, forgot to bring keys to gate to get in, and had to climb over fence onto Abbey Street training pitch.

He then realised he had forgotten his boots and had to use my trainers – which probably a bit of a snug fit I suspect!

Anyhow, also as is typical with Courtney he just got on with it. There were no complaints and he was brilliant! He has looked really good throughout the training camp.

The four pre-tournament games followed with the coaches of both teams mixing and both players and tactics.

It makes the results and performances difficult to interpret although winning is always the aim.

We were good against what appeared to be a full Wales at home which saw Lewis get his first cap for England – what a credit he has been to his family, Saints and England.

He and Piers had outstanding performances which must have helped cement their seats on the plane to Japan.

On a sad not here we were all upset by the knee injury to Welsh fly-half Gareth Anscombe which means he will miss the WC.

This now gives Saints no.10 Dan Bigger an enormous opportunity to lead the Welsh to glory.

A disappointing result against Wales in the return game in Cardiff was followed by an outstanding win against Ireland and a workmanlike, eventual demolition of Italy

The last warm up game against Italy saw us, ironically, fly in from Treviso, to Newcastle after a second spell there training in the heat and humidity.

This was a deliberate ploy by EJ to replicate the short turn around England will face between the Tonga and USA games during the first week of the World Cup.

A test of how well we have prepared to cope with this kind of disruption.

The multiple training venues, hotels and training facilities we have had to cope with during training camps to simulate what we will encounter in Japan should serve us very well.

The boys flew out to Japan the following day and it was a little strange waving them off as for the first time in 20 years I won’t be on the plane with them.

I will be keeping an eye on those boys who didn’t make the initial squad, but making sure they will be ready to step into the breach should they be called up.

Obviously, my diary is free for the whole campaign just in case extra help is needed out in Japan!

The team have just had a week acclimatising and training in the coastal town of Miyazaki before flying to Sapporo to play Tonga this Sunday – then the USA four days later.

We are prepared!

The squad is fit and healthy, the players are well prepared technically and tactically and they all appear to be in a great place mentally.

They enjoy each other's company and are hungry for success for the group.

England will be a difficult to beat.

Historically, it seems that to win a RWC you need to win every game – and that means seven in a row.

That is physically and mentally tough.

This tournament is wide open, so expect surprises.

Fasten your seatbelts as it is going to be an amazing ride for England Rugby Fans!

PS: On a personal note, I was so disappointed that all Dylan Hartley’s hard work and determination to get his knee right to fight for a place in the squad, including a visit to an old friend of mine, rehab specialist Bill Knowles, in Philadelphia, just wasn’t quite enough.

However he is full steam ahead as always to help Saints this season.