Planet Rugby

The Expert Witness

14th November 2012 12:13

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Charlie Sharples Moody Expert opinion

Taking his chance: Charlie Sharples

In a new series of columns Planet Rugby's James While catches up with a group former international stars to get their views on the end-of-year Tests: this week he speaks to England's maddest of dogs, Lewis Moody.

Next week our guest will be legendary Wales and the British & Irish Lions back rower, Martyn Williams.

Our man sat down with the former England skipper Moody as he prepares for something he describes as the greatest challenge of his career - tackling temperatures as low as minus 50C during a gruelling 300 mile trek of the Yukon river in the Yukon Arctic Ultra for HOPEHIV, a charity that supports some of the hundreds of thousands of children living and working on the streets across sub-Saharan Africa.

What on earth inspired Moody, a man who has had his sanity questioned regularly by many, to embark on this death defying adventure?

"Well, after 16 years of professional rugby, where I have faced some of the toughest opposition in the world, I needed a new focus," he said.

"In the latter years of my career I also had an ongoing battle off the field having been diagnosed with colitis, a debilitating inflammatory bowel disease, in 2005. With my Colitis currently under control and a rugby shaped hole in my life that I have begun to fill, this challenge gives me the perfect opportunity to push myself both physically and mentally."

Whilst Moody was preparing for his trek, back in the land of rugby, last weekend produced some corking performances and some unfancied results. With Wales beaten convincingly on their own doorstep, Scotland running in more tries in one game against a top nation than since they were gifted their own Parliament, Ireland masterminding their own downfall and England playing with expanse and ambition, one wonders what this weekend will have in store. The biggest shock was the Welsh loss and Moody is convinced complacency played a part.

"Look, Argentina have been performing at this level for a long time. Yes, in two World Cups they played simple but effective rugby, were incredibly tough to beat, but their experiences in the new Rugby Championship have now transformed their cohesion and teamwork. They've have significantly extended their game, as the displays from both their wingers, Camacho and Imhoff showed. They played much wider than before, with guys like Marcus Ayerza offering mobility and ball skills, and their back fives showing all just what a strong unit they are," he said.

Was the Welsh display a result of poor planning and preparation?

"I believe Wales significantly underestimated Argentina, expected the route 1 game of a few years back, and they got very badly bitten, but what a great result for the development of the game on the world stage! Wales aspire to be World Cup contenders, but I'm afraid if they prepare to play like that, and I emphasize preparation, they'll struggle to win anything", commented Moody.

"With France also thumping Australia, I cannot wait for their game against Argentina on Saturday. Two huge packs, two brilliant back rows, two sides that'll play with width and pace. It's very tough one to call. If France are to win then they need to play the best of their offload game, get their forward rumbling and carrying. But Argentina excel at the breakdown, where 1 to 15 all jackal like opensides, so I fancy Argentina to upset all odds and sneak a slim victory. 3 points maybe?"

England face a step up on Saturday when they host the Wallabies. A step up in standard, in intensity and in challenge. Against Fiji, they showed rare ambition, but also lacked that honed precision that flows so easily for the very top sides. Does Moody expect many changes to face Australia?

"I was delighted for my old fellow former Oakham Schoolboy Alex Goode, who played with rare cheek and intelligence," explained Moody.

"You need backs who play in the face the opposition and challenge them, and he did exactly that. Some of the young guns really came in from nowhere and made a big difference. Charlie Sharples seized his chance and deserves to be retained, even if it means shuffling two right wings into the side, as Ashton returns. Tom Youngs showed what amazing progress he'd made, and Tom Johnson continues to impress, even as a latecomer to international rugby.

"However, despite the manner which we played and the scoreline, there's a lot of work to be done around the error count. Both of the props butchered obvious tries, and I'm sure Brad Barritt hasn't spoken to Joe Marler all week!," laughed Moody. "Also Mike Brown - chances like that have to be taken at the top level as there are not many of them."

"With the Wallabies short of a few key influences, this is going to be a tough game. I expect England maybe to make one or two changes and perhaps return for Ben Morgan to give him a run out. The number 8 shirt is still up for grabs and I expect Stuart Lancaster to explore all his options. He's been clear this is a building process to 2015 and naturally, there will be peaks and troughs, but I'm calling England to win by 7 points or so."

Over in Scotland, things always seem look bleak, and despite 2 superb tries from the Flying Dutchman, Tim Visser, and a barnstorming display from Richie Gray and replacement Dave Denton, Scotland were comfortably second best.

Moody believes that New Zealand have become a real mental issue for NZ, despite the Scots' strong showing against SH sides in recent years.

"I do think they go into games against the All Blacks with damage limitation foremost in their minds. It's a case of 'we're going to lose, but we'll get as close as we can', and, in international rugby, that attitude will destroy sides before a ball is kicked. Let's be honest, Scotland have as good a back 5 in their pack as anyone around right now, but they are failing to win, losing games by the slimmest of margins. They have recent wins versus Australia and South Africa under their belts, yet they can't buy a result in the Six Nations," he said.

"I put that down to their self-belief.

"They're playing positive rugby, they have a good coach in Robbo (Andy Robinson) but they need to change their mindset into one of 'winners' and that's not easy. Andy needs those wins to survive and the team should wake up to that before it's too late.

"Ironically their best chance is against South Africa, who play a pack-based route 1 game of rugby, We all know that. However the Scots have the personnel in Gray, Hamilton, Denton and Brown to match their physicality, and I expect this to be a bruising encounter. I also fancy the weather may play a part, so I'm sitting this one out- if it rains, Scotland by 3. If it does not, SA by 10.

"New Zealand will go to Italy in the best of mood and form. Provided they overcome Italy's strong scrummaging, and surpress the master tactician Parisse at the base of the scrum, then I'll take them by 40 points. Once they get a sniff, the All Blacks are so precise that they can tear sides apart in the blink of an eye. So it's an easy NZ win."

Lewis Moody, Phil Wall and Alan Chambers hope to raise £300,000 for HopeHIV. For more information please visit mygreatestchallenge.org. To donate go to justgiving.com/teams/mygreatestchallenge. You can also tweet your greatest challenge using #mygreatestchallenge @MYGC2013.

The Yukon Arctic Ultra

• The Yukon Arctic Ultra runs between 3rd and 16th February 2013 next to the Yukon River in Northern Canada.

• Moody's team will be tackling 300 miles on foot.

• The race is billed as the toughest Ultra Marathon in the world during which the temperatures can drop to -50 degrees plus wind chill.

• Staying hydrated and maintaining the correct body temperature are 2 of the biggest difficulties competitors come up against.

• On average 75 contestants join the Yukon Arctic Ultra race every year from Europe, China, US, Canada and Australia. Only half finish the race.

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