Bouncing about like a child on a shedload of sherbet, Ugo Monye is doing a very passable impression of being the life and soul of Stuart Lancaster’s squad. Armed with a video camera, his every quip incites an avalanche of laughs from his fellow EPS members, even through the usually subdued atmosphere of international week.
However, the Harlequins wing assures me that the relentless banter has an official purpose. Alongside partner-in-crime Danny Care, Monye has been assigned the task of filming a mini-documentary – based on his England teammates’ haircuts. Needless to say, fitted with a new-look sweep-over himself, he is taking the role quite seriously.
“The players get the responsibility of the camera each week,” explains Monye with a mischievous smirk. “Danny and I have it this time around and decided our theme should be ‘lids’. A lot of the lads have already wondered whether we are qualified to talk about it because of the state of our own ones, but we’ve got some good footage.
“I guess taking the mickey out of everyone is just part of who I am. There are a good set of boys here and I am really enjoying their company – whether or not they could say the same about me, I’m not that sure.”
Finally set to add to his 15 Tests following an agonising wait of 32 months, Monye’s charming excitement is understandable. Saturday’s clash with Fiji at Twickenham will surely be a cathartic experience. Undoubtedly aided by Chris Ashton’s suspension and a long-term ankle injury to Ben Foden, he is somewhat fortunate to be part of the first foray into this crucial autumn series. Even so, nobody would begrudge the 29 year-old a bit of luck.
As a pivotal part of Harlequins’ Aviva Premiership triumph last season, who managed five tries on his side’s march to HQ, Monye entirely deserved a berth on the June tour to South Africa. Feeling the full effect of arduous domestic duties though, he took the trip with a hamstring strain that restricted his involvement to a single start in the final midweek game. Sadly, with a spot in the final Test against the Springboks at stake, an over-exuberant moment derailed Monye’s resurgence. Chasing down a long punt, he cracked his head attempting a tackle and suffered minor concussion.
Awarded a testimonial this year for loyal services to his club, this latest international reincarnation clearly comes during a happy period of self-contentment. Rather than harbouring bitterness about his misadventure in Potchefstroom, Monye retains admirable perspective, expressing thankfulness for having been able to hit the ground running this September.
“What happened in South Africa was frustrating,” he admits. “I thought I may have had a shot at getting into the Test side but twenty minutes later I was knocked out, so that was the end of that tour. In a funny sort of way though, it was a good thing. It was the end of a long season and I actually ended up with four weeks off – enough time to really get my body right and refresh my mind.
“I have taken my time and feel like I have been in good form for Harlequins. The style of rugby they play really suits me, because it allows me to get my hands on the ball and score tries. Obviously it has been a little while since I have been in the mix here, though, and it’s nice to be rewarded for what I believe has been a good start to this season. You can never take your time with England for granted. It can be taken away from you so quickly.”
The weekend holds significant symmetry for Monye, whose debut came four years ago today in Martin Johnson’s maiden match in charge. Pacific Islanders were the opponents that day and memories of a 39-13 win mean he will not underestimate the task in hand, even if undeniably tougher ones lie around the corner in the shape of the Wallabies, the Springboks and the All Blacks – a triumvirate Sir Clive Woodward used to call ‘The Bad Guys’.
“You have to treat every match as an opening,” starts some more rational reasoning. “We have had a good look at Fiji and you only have to be aware of guys like [Vereniki] Goneva at Leicester and Akapusi Qera at Gloucester [who was called up this week] to realise that they are a squad full of great talent. With that in mind, we are expecting a tough game but we are certainly well prepared.
“I have watched a lot of the Rugby Championship over the summer, too, and the three from that tournament are next up. New Zealand especially are a class side. They have so much strength in depth – in their back three there are any of seven or eight world class players who could start on any given weekend. It’s unbelievable, but these are the opportunities you want.”
In this mood – stress-free but determined to savour every bit of his England rejuvenation – Monye is in a prime position to grasp everything that comes his way. If his preoccupation with ‘lids’ does not get in the way, that much is certain.
Ugo Monye was speaking at the launch of O2 Inside Line, the weekly behind the scenes show from inside the England camp. For the latest episode and to receive email alerts for each show, visit www.O2InsideLine.com
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images