Morgan ready for his big test

Olly Morgan will prepare for the toughest rugby challenge of his young life at Croke Park on Saturday with the words of the coach ringing in his ears.

Not England coach Brian Ashton. Rather Coach Carter, the inspirational schoolteacher who elevates his underachieving basketball pupils to undreamed of heights in a true-life film made famous by Samuel L Jackson.

The hip-hop soundtrack to that film is never far from Morgan’s hearing, especially as it contains the following sentiment.

“When we step on the floor every second that clock is ticking. We are pedal to the metal, we run the ball, we pressure the ball and most importantly we control the tempo of the game.”

Ashton would be hard pressed to come up with a more appropriate team talk himself as he sends his England players out against Ireland and a furnace of an atmosphere at the heart of Irish nationalism.

It is an intimidating place for the toughest of characters, let alone for a 21-year-old fullback who has played just one Test in the famous white jersey.

And Morgan admits to a flutter or two in the stomach.

“I’m a nervous person. I’m nervous before every game, I was even before schoolboy games. When you get on the pitch they tend to drift away but they are part and parcel of the game,” he said.

“It’s only my second cap. I’ve got a lot to prove with Gloucester, let alone with England.

“But I find music helps. Throughout the team room there is music which psyches people up. But coming to the stadium on the coach I listen to heavy hip-hop to get me going. I listen to Two-Pack, a rapper, but mostly to the soundtrack album of that ‘Coach Carter’ film.”

Morgan is one of a group of youngsters coming through at Gloucester and as an ex-Millfield pupil he also has a pedigree shared with the likes of rugby legends JPR Williams and Gareth Edwards to name but two.

In his mid-teens he considered making hockey his preferred game but narrowly opted for rugby and was called up to Andy Robinson’s injury-hit squad for the autumn Tests.

He received his big chance against Scotland four weeks ago when Iain Balshaw was injured and seized it with a solid performance.

With Balshaw again injured he is back in for a history-making RBS Six Nations fixture.

“It is an unbelievable challenge. Croke Park is one of the best venues in Europe and the atmosphere will be amazing. The game is going to be tough but I’m really looking forward to it,” he said.

It means the chance once more to rub shoulders with men such as former rugby league great Andy Farrell who he remembers watching on television as a 10 year old.

“I was a big fan of rugby when I was that age. It is a great honour to be playing with players like that now. It is surreal but you can’t let that be in your head. Everybody has got to know their moves, run the right angles. You don’t really take into consideration who is there. You’re playing for England. You just want to win,” he added.

Most influential, however, has been his Gloucester teammate Mike Tindall, a World Cup winner and now one of the more mature members of the England squad.

“Tindall has that calm aura around him and that does help. He has told me ‘Just enjoy it.’ International rugby doesn’t last long and you have to take the opportunity. Just cherish the moment.

“A couple of weeks ago I was at Twickenham playing against Scotland and I woke up on Sunday and it was like I was living a dream. The game went so quickly but it was really enjoyable.”

Such sentiments would be music to the ears of his coach – Ashton that is, not Carter.

365 Digital

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