England flanker Tom Rees is determined to sign off the season in style against the All Blacks in Saturday’s second Test, otherwise his summer will be ruined.
Twelve months ago, England began a seemingly endless campaign with a training camp in Portugal before launching into the World Cup, the Six Nations and a summer tour of New Zealand.
Rees, who also won the Guinness Premiership title with Wasps along the way, has already cast his mind towards a summer holiday.
But before then he faces one more battle with the one man he wants to emulate above any other in world rugby: Richie McCaw, king of the breakdown and New Zealand’s captain.
Rees held his own against McCaw in last weekend’s 37-20 defeat as one third of an inexperienced England back row that excelled.
He said: “To come away at the end of a long season, put so much emphasis on the first Test and then feel as disappointed as we did makes it a pretty big mountain to climb to get back up for it this weekend.
“I am thinking about the holiday at the end. I will enjoy it a hell of a lot more knowing I did myself proud right up until the end.
“I will have a crap time if I spend four weeks doing nothing thinking of how I played a poor game of rugby on the last weekend of the season, because that is what I will remember.”
Rees is at the epicentre of the breakdown battle and he experienced McCaw’s quality for the first time last Saturday. But the Wasps flanker did well as England’s dynamic back row of Rees, Luke Narraway and James Haskell made it particularly difficult for the All Blacks in the opening 20 minutes.
Rees added: “I enjoyed playing against him. It is no secret I aspire to be that kind of player. You only get that from playing against them.The guy is a very good rugby player. I thought we acquitted ourselves well as a back-row.”
England are convinced that, as the game wore on, McCaw began to get away with killing the ball on the wrong side of the ruck.
That prompted stand-in coach Rob Andrew to make McCaw the tongue-in-cheek offer of an England jersey “so when he is on our side of the ball he is already wearing white”.
Narraway, making only his second Test start, was rather more taken aback by McCaw’s infuriating ability to slow opposition ball.
“You do put the All Blacks on a bit of a pedestal and there is an aura about them. Richie McCaw is the best seven in the world and could be doing the job of two people in the Premiership,” said Narraway.
“I think he does get away with more. He is a very, very clever player round the breakdowns. He does a lot of very good work, whether turning over the ball or slowing it down.
“I don’t know if the referees are scared of penalising him.”