On the back of arguably his best game in an England shirt, Alex Corbisiero spoke to Ben Coles yesterday evening at Camberley RFC, were the London Irish prop was taking part in the RBS RugbyForce campaign.
Corbisiero’s connection with the club comes through coach Alun Rise, who was on the first coaches to spot his talent at a young age. “Alun picked me up when I was about 16 and brought me through the county system, and was a massive influence on my career. I started off at KCS Old Boys, and then moved on to Cobham Rugby Club, but I’ve played against Camberley a number of times and it’s a great club.”
With Italy still fresh on the mind just four days after England pulled off a gruelling, physical win in unusual conditions, the prop is happy to be looking back on success rather than a painful defeat. “It was exciting. A real tough, physical game and great for the team to come out on top. I thought we showed real character.
“After the second try I was gutted, because it was against the run of play and whilst I felt we were starting to get on top of them it hadn’t really clicked. So for them to go and score those two tries… but we pulled it together and changed some tactics, and I was impressed with how we came back.”
The Rome blizzard was certainly a unique experience for the New York born loosehead, who admitted that never before had he played in a match when snow had actually been falling during a game. As a result, England’s attack was perhaps not as full-flowing as he would have liked it to have been. “You’re not going to be able to play the most exciting brand of rugby when it’s snowing and the pitch is covered in slosh. We rolled our sleeves up and fought our way out.”
Arguably the reason such praise was lavished on Corbisiero for his performance came from his impact at the scrum. Despite appearing to struggle during the first three engagements, as the match wore on he started to assert his dominance over the Italian front-row, and an old enemy in Leicester Tigers prop Martin Castrogiovanni. “By the end of the game it was one of our strengths. We switched it on. At international level my record against Castro is good but with that Leicester pack behind him it tends to be different! He’s a great all-round player, not just at the set-piece but in the loose as well.”
Although as Corbisiero admits “a prop is judged first on his set-piece, with anything afterwards coming as a bonus”, we saw on Saturday him rumbling around the field more than in his first handful of caps for his country, showing what many who have seen him play at Premiership level for London Irish already knew; he is difficult to stop. “I thought it was definitely up there with my best performance for England. I had some good moments against Scotland, so the two of those together are some of the best games I’ve had. I haven’t always been able to make that kind of impact in the loose when I’ve played for England so it was nice to get my hands on the ball.”
The anticipation has already been taken up a few notches ahead of facing Wales next weekend following Jonathan Davies’ unreserved comments earlier this week that Wales would ‘absolutely smash England up front… we could absolutely go to town on them’. With a wry grin and a little laugh, Corbisiero’s response is perfectly diplomatic. “Everyone’s entitled to their opinion. To be honest, I’ve not go problem with us as a team being labelled as underdogs, because whilst it doesn’t take the pressure off, we just get on with it.
“All we want is to improve with each performance, taking no backward steps. Our game as a pack has been one of our strengths as a team so far. Wales will be tough, because they have a world class pack, but they’ve got to come down to Twickenham and hopefully we’ll put in good enough performance to match them.”
Looking back, it has been whirlwind 12 months since Corbisiero made his Test debut against Italy at home last year. With 12 caps now under his belt, his experience is building, although he admits that each game remains as hard as the last. “I don’t know if I feel comfortable at this level. I’m more used to it obviously, but every Test match is still so intense. I’m more comfortable within the squad, being with a great group of guys who I feel at home with, but I don’t think you can ever be comfortable playing Test rugby. You’ve always got to push on, and not just keep improving, but wanting to improve as well until you reach your full potential.”
But even with his small amount of caps, Corbisiero was one of England’s most experienced players at Murrayfield three weeks ago. With the memory of being a debutant in Test rugby still fresh, there is a level of empathy between him and the newcomers, who have made their mark. “Honestly, everyone has impressed. Owen Farrell has been outstanding, not just in the way he plays but how vocal he is as well on the pitch, his attitude too. Phil Dowson is such an experienced player, and I know he’s only just come into the squad but he’s been a real vocal leader in our team and I think we’ve needed that. Then of course there’s Chris (Robshaw) as captain who’s led us to two tough victories away from home and always makes the right decisions.”
He also has plenty of praise for Stuart Lancaster, but there’s little doubt that his favourite coach in the England staff is Graham Rowntree. The 57 former capped British Lion is one of the main reasons according to Corbisiero for the England pack’s good work so far. “I’ve benefited so much from my involvement with him over the last few years. His attention to detail on the technical side of scrummagging has helped massively. I’m really happy with him taking on more responsibility now as forwards coach, because our pack has played really well and a lot of that is down to him. I feel very fortunate to have him as a coach.” There’s little doubt that for now, Corbisero is England’s future in the number 1 shirt. More performances such as Saturday’s in Rome, would make it a certainty.
by Ben Coles
Photo by Lee Mills – Work, Rest and Play Pictures
Alex Corbisiero is supporting RBS RugbyForce, the community rugby programme that is improving club facilities across the nation. To register your rugby club for the RBS RugbyForce Weekend on 2-3 June, visit www.rbs.com/rugbyforce.