Saturday December 1, 4.28pm. Twickenham.
Alex Goode stands on the tryline, taking the adulation of 82,000 Englishmen and shaking beaten New Zealanders by the hand. The world champions have been vanquished, he was one of the main reasons why, and life has never tasted so sweet.
Saturday December 8, 5.59pm. Thomond Park.
Goode waits for the kick-off, clad in the colours of Saracens. He hurts, still battered and bruised, but there is an expectation now, the desire to live up to the standards expected of him and the desperation to repay his club for their support.
It doesn’t stop, this game of inches.
The margins are ever tighter, whether at Test match level or in the rarified atmosphere of the Heineken Cup. And players such as Goode are the ones who make the difference. This elusive runner, dead-eye kicker and fearsome tackler has had to bide his time, but he can now be called England’s first-choice full-back without fear of contradiction.
He could have done with a week off for the cuts to heal and to fully understand the significance of what he has achieved, but it doesn’t work like that. Now he has a reputation to maintain. It is a reputation that will be fully tested by Munster.
“I don’t know if people expect more of me now, but I expect a lot from myself,” he said.
“I’m my own worst critic. Maybe people are more aware of me now. You always worry when you play the best in the world how you are going to fare, so to come out of it feeling confident will do me no harm.
“I don’t think the last month has really hit home yet. Whenever you go up a level you hope you’ll perform, and it’s always been that way from A team rugby to the Saracens first-team, to Heineken Cup rugby and now internationals. I’d like to think that last month I grew as a player and played better and better as it went on.
“But now it’s Munster and one of the great European stadiums. It’s going to be electric, and everyone knows the great wins they’ve had there. I hope the atmosphere is phenomenal there too.
“It’s 26,000 there but they’ll make it feel like 82,000. Coming straight from internationals into this intensity will be good for me. The standard of the Heineken Cup is at a very similar level to when you play for your country. I’ll be ready.”
And success in the Heineken Cup is Saracens’ next big target. English champions in 2011, they exited Europe at the quarter-final stage last season — something that for World Cup winning skipper John Smit, Schalk Brits and Owen Farrell is unacceptable. They need to be successful too. Saracens move into their new, €29.6m home, Allianz Park, in January — and nothing will bring the crowds flocking more than a run to a European final.
“We are looking to build an arena that is very special to us,” said Goode.
“And as a team we want to prove ourselves in the Heineken Cup. We are disappointed we lost at home to Clermont in the quarter-finals last year and we want to reach the Final this time.
“We’ve started well with two wins and we need to carry that form on. But Munster are a fantastic side. Not many teams go over there and win so it’s a massive, massive test for us. we know how good they can be, and if we let Ronan O’Gara dictate, we’re in trouble. They’ve got great players and they are still very well respected because they are dangerous.
“We will look to stamp our authority on the game and take it to them. We won’t be overawed by the occasion and we’ll look to fly out of the blocks and be very physical from the off.”
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