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Dan Cole has proven himself to be a long-lasting asset in England's journey towards progress.
Rugby union Sport

Dan Cole has proven himself to be a long-lasting asset in England’s journey towards progress.


The scent of newly mowed grass at Twickenham can be detected when Dan Cole enters a room beneath the English rugby stadium. Dressed in training gear and holding a pair of boots, Cole comfortably transitions from the intense training session to answering questions from a group of journalists.

Cole confidently and humorously addresses the questions that come his way, having the experience of playing at the highest level in rugby. His journey with England, at the age of 36, is a well-known tale, especially the progression from a tough loss in the 2019 Rugby World Cup final against South Africa to an outstanding personal performance in last year’s semi-final defeat by the Boks.

In a tense semi-final match at Stade de France four months ago, the strong scrummaging of Leicester’s tighthead player played a vital role in England’s control over the eventual world champions. Despite this, it was expected that at 37 years old, the player would retire from international play after the tournament, along with teammates Ben Youngs, Jonny May, and Courtney Lawes.

Cole shared that a talk in Paris with head coach Steve Borthwick, just two days after England’s defeat, influenced his choice to keep playing. His strong bond with Borthwick, who helped revive his career at Welford Road, played a crucial role.

Cole recalls a conversation with Steve regarding his retirement plans. After Courtney announced his retirement in a press conference, Steve privately asked if Cole had any plans for press conferences or announcements. Cole responded by saying he needed to speak to his wife and to Steve, as he would retire if not chosen by Steve. Cole laughs as he remembers this exchange. Steve then offered Cole the option to make his own decision, to which Cole agreed because he owed Steve a lot. And now, here he is.

Assuming Cole plays in the upcoming Calcutta Cup match at Murrayfield, he will have earned a total of 109 international appearances. This puts him in fourth place among the most-capped players for England, with his good friend and current podcast partner Youngs holding the top position at 127 caps. Following closely behind are Jason Leonard with 114 caps and Owen Farrell with 112.

For the past 14 years, Cole has observed multiple changes to the team’s structure. Following the 2019 World Cup, he was removed from the team as “Building a New England” became a frequently mentioned goal for Eddie Jones’s squad. However, with Borthwick now on board and ample time to prepare for the 2027 World Cup in Australia, significant changes are truly taking place.

Dan Cole in trainingView image in fullscreen

Felix Jones has joined the team as an assistant coach and there are a number of new players on the squad, such as Chandler Cunningham-South, Immanuel Feyi-Waboso, and Ethan Roots.

According to Cole, Steve has made it clear that this is a brand new team. While there are some older members, the majority are new players and the team has a fresh direction. The core of young players will lead the team for the next several years. With many new and young faces, the focus is on creating a sense of connection and unity within the team. In the past, the mindset was “my way or the highway,” but now there is a greater effort to engage with and involve the younger players who may have shorter attention spans.

Cole emphasizes the need for brief, concise meetings in order to cater to the attention span of the social media generation. In the background, music can be heard coming from a nearby room as the England team continues their tasks. Cole is unsure of the DJ’s identity but mentions the existence of a music committee that he chooses not to reveal.

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Jones has achieved victory in two World Cups alongside the Boks and Cole claims that he is infusing his own personality into training. With the introduction of a new aggressive defensive strategy by the Irishman, England is striving for a hat-trick of wins in the Six Nations against Scotland. According to Cole, Jones has a distinct personality from Kev Sinfield, with a higher level of intensity. While Sinfield is more composed, Jones exudes a more frenzied energy.

As Cole progresses in his senior years as a player, his training intensity has actually increased instead of decreasing. He believes that it is important to quickly get into the session and maintain high adrenaline levels before finishing. However, as one gets older, starting and stopping can become more challenging. Although he still has the chance to win another grand slam in his career, Cole admits that thoughts of retirement do cross his mind, especially now that one potential opportunity has already passed.

Cole’s spouse owns a flower shop, and although he does not participate – “I lack creativity” – he has promised to help in the future. He said, “When I retire, I’ll be the one making deliveries,” but she replied, “I prefer for you not to interact with the customers.”

Is this his last global mission? Cole is uncertain. “I haven’t considered it yet.” When the moment eventually comes, Borthwick and England will certainly feel his absence.

Source: theguardian.com