Ben Foden has vowed that there will be no repeat of the off-field controversies that dogged England’s world cup campaign last autumn in South Africa, where England are preparing for a gruelling, three-test series against the Springboks.
Foden is one of the survivors from England’s sorry world cup, a tournament riddled with off-field issues involving a number of players which played its part in a quarter-final exit, the subsequent resignation of manager Martin Johnson and the curtailment of many test careers.
Since then new boss Stuart Lancaster has imposed a strict code of conduct which, if ignored, leads to being dropped from his squad, as Danny Care discovered when drink-related offences cost him his Six Nations place.
Foden knows that South Africa, like New Zealand, is a rugby-mad country where visiting players will be under close scrutiny at all times.
Despite this he is convinced that he and his players have now got the message.
“There is a big buzz in South Africa awaiting the England squad to come over and play,” said the full-back. “There will be a lot of eyes on us making sure we represent England well at all times. We’ve been briefed and Stuart expects us to be pretty professional out there.
“I’m sure there will be a little down time for us to get out and see the sights and do some activities, but I expect the drinking will be kept to a minimum.
“We know what is expected and how we must behave. Stuart musn’t feel as if he has to babysit us. I doubt he’ll say you can’t do this or have a few beers after a game but he will expect us to be professional. If you’re not, and you don’t meet his expectations then you won’t be here.
“That’s the culture we have created and we want to achieve something with this England side. There are 42 guys who want to be involved in this England side right up to the next world cup and beyond. They must recognise that they represent England at all times.”
With the advent of social media Foden and his teammates recognise that the mistakes made in New Zealand, such as the infamous night in Queenstown that led to photos going global of drunken players and dwarves, cannot be repeated in South Africa.
“There will be extra scrutiny on us because of what happened in the past, especially with Facebook, Twitter and mobile phones,” Foden accepted. “You can get caught easily doing something that in your eyes seems fairly harmless but a picture can make you look very stupid. It puts pressure on the team, extra pressure we don’t need.
“We want to ensure that everything is positive going forward with England especially for when the world cup comes in 2015. We want to be humble on this tour. We are going into another country and we want to respect that. If we’re not on the ball, if you’re not polite when people see you, then they will point a finger and call you an idiot. It’s all about actions, though, not words.”
It will be a stiff task on the field, too, for a young England side who defied the pundits by finishing runners up to Wales in the Six Nations, but who now face an altogether tougher challenge that three tests in South Africa set.
“Judging by previous England tours South Africa is obviously a tough place to go and win a single test, let alone a series,” added the 26-year-old Northampton Saint. “Not many teams go there and win. It will be a big ask for us.
“South Africa are a physical team who will take us on. We have to match their physical approach, passion and desire as well as skill. They like to kick the ball as well as throw it around. They play a complete game and we’ll have to match them in every department.”
Foden expects to be particularly challenged playing at the back. “It will be a big challenge for me as a full back to be able to attack as well as defend,” he explained.
“The pitches will be dry and firm, and we should see a lot of attacking rugby. This will be the next test for me and the team after a pretty successful Six Nations.
“We have to go to the Southern Hemisphere and pit ourselves against a top class team such as the Springboks. We need to put down a big marker in the rugby world by at least winning one or maybe two of the tests.”
It all begins on Saturday in Durban. Off the field England appear to have learnt their lesson after the world cup. On the field we will discover whether Foden and his predominantly young teammates can take the next step towards ultimate glory in 2015.