ALEX LOWE
WOOD READY FOR A BRAWL

By Alex Lowe, Press Association Sport England Rugby Union Correspondent

Tom Wood is geared up for another Twickenham battle royal as England go from being the hunters to the hunted in today’s Calcutta Cup showdown with Scotland.

Wood was man of the match when England’s back row outplayed the much-vaunted New Zealand loose trio and set the platform for a record 38-21 home win against the world champions in December.

But Scotland are marching on Twickenham with an army of powerful and abrasive forwards, led by captain Kelly Brown, with ambitions of turning the tables on England.

Wood is relishing the challenge and is confident England can reproduce the intensity that accounted for the All Blacks.

"It sounds big and physical. It looks as if we are expecting wet conditions
and a real battle up front. We’re quite happy with that,” Wood said.

"We will need some brawlers in there who will get on the floor, get dirty and put their head where it hurts.

"If Scotland come out full of fire and determined to put pressure on you, they can get in amongst you and knock you off your game.

"That’s what we did to New Zealand. We’ve gone from targeting New Zealand to being the target. So we have to deal with that.

"The challenge for us to reproduce that (intensity from the All Blacks game) regardless of the opposition or occasion. That’s our benchmark and that’s where got to get back to.

"That’s in all aspects of our game, not just the breakdown. We could do with being more clinical out wide and what not, getting more variety in our game."

Consistency of performance, handling expectations and dealing with being favourites has been a theme of England’s preparations for the RBS 6 Nations.

Andrew Strauss was invited by head coach Stuart Lancaster to address the squad on how England’s cricket team built a side that rose from fifth to first in the world.

Jessica Ennis’ coach Toni Minichiello gave an insight into how the London 2012 poster girl handled the expectation and still delivered at the Olympic Games.

England face a similar challenge at Twickenham on Saturday. Scotland have not won there in 30 years and were beaten by Tonga on their last outing. England, meanwhile, thumped the All Blacks.

The expectation will be for a home win but England refuse to under-estimate Scotland. The two sides have not been separated by more than a converted try in four matches.

"Scotland have already stated that they like nothing better than coming to Twickenham to spoil our party,” Wood said.

"Performing with consistency like the All Blacks is something that’s ingrained in your culture and that’s something Stuart (Lancaster) set up right from the start. No matter who you’re playing.

"Just because we beat the All Blacks and did so convincingly, running in some tries, that doesn’t mean it’s just going to happen again.

"Scotland are a different opponent, present a different challenge and we need to govern ourselves in that respect.

"We’re about working hard, going about your processes, doing your analysis, no one game is more important that the other."

The England side includes a debut for Gloucester centre Billy Twelvetrees in place of the injured Manu Tuilagi.

England are a substantially more dangerous side with Tuilagi in midfield,
averaging nearly twice as many points scored when the destructive Leicester midfielder plays.

But Twelvetrees is rated as the complete package by Gloucester boss Nigel Davies, and Brad Barritt is confident they can strike up an immediate rapport in midfield.

"Manu is a fantastic player and he is an asset to any team - but no team is reliant on one person,” Barritt said.

"We have known for a couple of weeks he wouldn’t be involved.

"That has allowed us to build the partnerships and I think people will be
straight up to the mark straight away.”

end

ENGLAND’S QUEST FOR PERFECTION

By Alex Lowe, Press Association Sport England Rugby Union Correspondent

A year ago this weekend, Stuart Lancaster’s new England team took their first defiant steps “out of the gutter” with a victory over Scotland at
Murrayfield.

Tomorrow, England tackle the auld enemy for the Calcutta Cup once again but now their sights are trained on the stars, having beaten world champions New Zealand at the start of December.

Phase one of England’s rebuilding plan is complete. The foundations of
Lancaster’s team have been laid, the identity of the team forged in the furnace of Test rugby.

England finished 2012 with a record of six wins, five defeats and a draw but the progress from the wreckage of the 2011 Rugby World Cup was clear.

The challenge which begins for England tomorrow is to build on those
foundations. The long-term goal is to be ranked in the top two by the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

"I am pleased how the last year has gone but I want more,” said assistant coach Graham Rowntree.

"We have a settled coaching group, a core of players and a core leadership group. What has pleased me most is the players we have blooded in key positions.

"We have developed that over the past year. We have got a good culture and one of our bedrock statements is we have to be hard to beat.

"We will challenge teams in every area of the field. We have built on that but we are nowhere near where we can be. No-one knows that more than us.

"We did beat the world champions but we stripped that performance down: so many areas were good and so many areas we have got to improve on.

"We know where we are in terms of our group, our experience and what we have to get better at. That’s what drives us on, that (quest for) perfection.”

It was Rowntree who credited Lancaster with dragging English rugby out of the gutter in March and the Rugby Football Union soon agreed, installing him as permanent head coach.

Lancaster’s rise through the ranks of the RFU has been rapid. Two years ago he applied for the role of performance director, which was scrapped in a managerial meltdown at Twickenham.

But the latest reshuffle instituted this week has seen Lancaster placed in
charge of all elite rugby, a role which encompasses both the head coach and performance director duties.

"It was never my intention two years ago to get the England head coach or this extra responsibility. That is not the way I thought,” Lancaster said.

"Last year I was the interim coach. There is a different feel this year.
Expectations have risen and this time last year people were looking at us as an unknown force. Now they know.

"The trick is to win consistently, even when you are the target. That is what the All Blacks do. That is what we have to strive towards.

"We have to be one step ahead, not one step behind."

Scotland have not won at Twickenham in 30 years and they head south on the back of a defeat to Tonga which cost Andy Robinson his job as head coach.

That only serves to heighten the expectation on England, but Rowntree, angered by accusations of arrogance aimed at his team, insisted there is no danger of complacency.

England have won the last three fixtures against Scotland but the margin has not been bigger than a converted try.

"There is nothing more daunting to me than a team coming here with nothing to lose,” Rowntree said.

"They are always tight games given the competition between the two countries. I am on edge about the game.

"We have spoken a lot about recreating the intensity we showed against New Zealand. That has to be our benchmark going forward.”

In tight encounters such as that which England expect tomorrow, Lancaster talks about the players who offer a point of difference as being critical.

England have lost one in the injured Manu Tuilagi but hope to have found another in Billy Twelvetrees, who will make his debut at inside centre and is seen by many as the complete package.

Tom Youngs’ form through the autumn earned him the hooker’s jersey despite the return to fitness of Dylan Hartley while Ben Youngs edged the scrum-half debate from Danny Care.

Owen Farrell is arguably in the form of his life and he will continue at
fly-half, having taken his goal-kicking to world-class standards since the
autumn.

Farrell made his Test debut in the Murrayfield encounter a year ago, which ended with Chris Robshaw lifting the Calcutta Cup.

The England captain is confident his men can rise to the new challenge and launch phase two of Lancaster’s project just as they launched phase one - with a victory over Scotland.

"We spoke in the week about the honour of playing in the oldest international rugby fixture in history,” Robshaw said.

"Both sides will be fully aware of what the game means and the history and rivalry between the two countries.

"This is a new challenge. It is about rising to that challenge. I have a very
talented and great group around me.

"Every time we go out there we are going out to work hard for the nation, for the fans who have come to watch us and hopefully perform well for them."

end

LAUNCHBURY’S PRIDE AND PRIVELAGE MAKES ARROGANCE CLAIMS A MOCKERY

By Alex Lowe, Press Association Sport England Rugby Union Correspondent

Perched awkwardly on the arm of a chair and speaking in his quiet tones, Joe Launchbury inadvertently dismantled any remaining credibility to the claims of arrogance levelled against the England team.

Launchbury was not addressing Jim Telfer’s spicy comments directly. That had been taken care of by England’s bristling head coach Stuart Lancaster, who said adamantly: “It is not in our culture”.

The 21-year-old lock, England’s player of the QBE autumn series, was explaining why he had decided to donate his prize money to the Matt Hampson Foundation for injured rugby players.

Hampson was left paralysed when a scrum collapsed during an England Under-21 training session in 2005. His spirit is inspiring and his foundation helps others in the same unenviable position.

For every fit and active player, both amateur and professional, the sense of ‘there by the grace of God go I’ is inescapable.

Launchbury’s gratitude for being an England international, for having achieved so much so quickly, is the polar opposite to the picture painted by Telfer of a “condescending” team carried away with their own success.

"I couldn’t think of a better place to give the money to. They do some great work for injured players," said Launchbury, who will make only his third England start against Scotland tomorrow.

"This is a tough sport and anything can happen. Unfortunately, these guys have been there. The rugby community is a small one and it is a tight one. You never wish that on anyone.

"I understand I am in a privileged position and one I need to make the most of. I am out there every day working as hard as I can to try to become a better player.

"I have had a few messages from Matt thanking me for the donation and he said the money would go to great use. It was just a small amount to help."

Launchbury’s route to the top appeared to have halted when, just four years ago, he was informed by Harlequins academy manager Tony Diprose that he would not be offered a professional contract.

Launchbury was dejected but he decided not to quit the game altogether, an attitude of determination which marked him out as a player with potential from an early age.

Diprose knew it but there was no room for Launchbury, who returned to Sussex and played for Worthing while stacking Sainsbury shelves.

Andy Turner, the rugby coach at Christ’s Hospital School in Horsham, had seen it when Launchbury was pupil, first XV rugby captain, goalkeeper and wicketkeeper.

Turner had organised for Launchbury to join Worthing, who were coached by the former Wasps prop Will Green. It took one game, against Barnes, for Green to phone his old club with a recommendation.

"The unconventional route I have had to get here has made me very grateful and the inspiration I have had from outside has made me very grateful,” Launchbury said.

Launchbury’s rugby is infused by his wider sporting experience at school. He is agile, dynamic and powerful with good hands and he established himself in the Wasps team last season.

Although injury cost him a place on England’s summer tour, Launchbury made such an impact during the autumn series that he is now considered a British and Irish Lion in waiting.

The Six Nations will heavily influence the selection thinking of Lions coach Warren Gatland and tomorrow Launchbury will be up against the imposing pair of Richie Gray and Jim Hamilton.

"Every team we play in the British Isles will have second rows who are
challenging for those honours and we are no different. It is the pinnacle of British rugby and something all players want to be part of,” Launchbury said.

"It is dangerous to look at one on one battles, especially this weekend when you are coming up against such a big pack. It will be up to us as a collective eight to take them on.

"We know where we are as a pack. We know where we stand. We are growing in experience and Graham Rowntree has done some great work with us.

"In the autumn it went well for us up front and we don’t want to let that drop off now.

"England against Scotland is a great rivalry with great history behind it. I
have watched it on television for years and now I can’t wait to play my part in it.”

end

SURE BET GATLAND TARGETS LIONS SUCCESS

By Alex Lowe, Press Association Sport Rugby Union Reporter

Warren Gatland’s appointment as the 2013 British and Irish Lions coach, which was belatedly confirmed in London today, was about as sure a thing as a bet on Frankel.

The Lions committee made their decision after Gatland had led Wales to the semi-finals of the World Cup and then to a second Six Nations Grand Slam in four years.

Sir Ian McGeechan, the Lion king who took Gatland to South Africa as part of his management squad in 2009, had backed the New Zealander’s claims.

When Gatland’s record with Wasps was also taken into account - three Premiership titles and a Heineken Cup - there really was no coach in the northern hemisphere to match him.

Lions manager Andy Irvine had no qualms appointing a Kiwi to the top job, arguing Gatland had earned his “badge of honour” as part of the 2009 coaching team in South Africa.

And Gatland believes he brings something unique. His playing days may have been in New Zealand but his coaching career has, almost exclusively, been based in Britain and Ireland.

"It’s a massive honour,” Gatland said.

"I’m well aware of the potential criticism; that it should have been someone who is British or Irish, and I understand that. But I see myself as being a bit different to that.

"Graham (Henry) had only been here for a short period, then he got appointed for the 2001 Lions tour.

"I’ve been coaching in the northern hemisphere for 23 years - on and off since 1989.

"I’ve lived and coached in Ireland, I’ve lived and coached in London, in England, and now I’m living and working in Wales.

"That has given me a great insight, culturally and an understanding.

"New Zealand is still claiming me as a New Zealand coach, but all my coaching has been done in the northern hemisphere.

"I’ve learned a huge amount here. My playing days were primarily in New Zealand but it’s given me a massive amount of experience and balance playing there, being coached there and playing for the All Blacks, but also coming up to the northern hemisphere and learning a huge amount here too.

"I’d like to think that’s given me a very rounded experience.”

Gatland played a record 140 times for Waikato, leading his province to a victory over Wales and, in 1993, he lined up against the Lions in Hamilton.

“We were bouncing off the walls,” he recalled.

Gatland made 17 appearances for his country at hooker although he never won a Test cap, his path blocked by the All Blacks captain Shaun Fitzpatrick.

But his coaching instincts were evident early on, when he introduced a game based on Australian Rules and Gaelic football into New Zealand squad’s training routine.

Gatland pursued his coaching career in Europe, taking charge of Connacht for two years before he was appointed Brian Ashton’s successor as Ireland head coach.

Ireland had been struggling for a number of years and Gatland succeeded in planting the green shoots of recovery before he was sacked in 2001 and replaced by his assistant Eddie O’Sullivan.

How much credit he can take for the Triple Crown and Grand Slam successes that followed for Ireland depend on whether you are in the Gatland or O’Sullivan camp.

Gatland moved on to Wasps where he recruited defence coach Shaun Edwards into rugby union and led the club to a hat-trick of Premiership crowns and Heineken Cup glory.

On limited resources, Gatland and Edwards turned Wasps into the best side in Europe. He is a hard-nosed coach who does not take fools gladly.

“He’s a guy who I have the utmost respect for,” said Phil Vickery, who played under Gatland for Wasps and the Lions.

“He’s a typical Kiwi. He’s honest, sometimes brutally, but you can be honest back.

“He gets the guys together and gets the best out of people.”

In 2006, Gatland moved back to New Zealand and led Waikato to the national title before Wales came calling after they had crashed out in the pool stages of the World Cup.

Gatland recruited Edwards again and their impact was immediate, guiding Wales to the first of two Grand Slam triumphs in the space of four years.

Ever since he had watched the Lions beat the All Blacks in 1971, the touring team from the British Isles had held a mythical status.

In 2009 Gatland learned from the inside what it meant to be a Lion.

Next summer, he will aim to carve out his own piece of history as the Lions target their first Test series win in 16 years.

“I remember as a boy when the 1971 Lions came to New Zealand. Teams weren’t supposed to beat the All Blacks, so that had a big impact on me psychologically, mentally,” he said.

“Then to think the Lions did it again in South Africa in 1974. It’s about to getting back to that - making the Lions successful again.”

end

DISCIPLINE CRUCIAL TO GATLAND

By Alex Lowe, Press Association Sport Rugby Union Reporter

Warren Gatland is determined there will be no repeat of England’s World Cup disciplinary disaster when he leads the British and Irish Lions on next year’s tour of Australia.

Gatland’s players will be encouraged to extend the 125-year traditions of the Lions, to be open and accessible to the public, to visit schools and hospitals. To leave a positive mark on the country.

In 2009, the players did all those things and the tour of South Africa, led by Sir Ian McGeechan, was praised for restoring the very ethos of the Lions despite a 2-1 Test series defeat.

But England’s World Cup campaign, book-ended by a drunken squad night out in Queenstown and Manu Tuilagi’s alcohol-fuelled leap from a ferry, has left its scar on the professional game.

That scar serves as a warning to Lions tour manager Andy Irvine, who expects the touring players to be targeted by members of the public when they are in Australia.

Inevitably, that leaves the Lions having to tread a fine line between upholding the best of their traditions while also being on their guard.

"Discipline and character are massively important things,” Gatland said.

"We are all aware what happened in the World Cup and the issues that arose from that.

"Our conduct on and particularly off the field will be paramount.

"It is important we address that and make sure we try not to get ourselves into any trouble off the field.”

While England sloped home in disgrace from the 2011 World Cup, Gatland’s Wales squad reached the semi-finals and were praised for their conduct and professionalism.

Irvine believes Gatland, who enjoyed mixing with Lions supporters in the hotel bars on the 2009 tour, is the perfect man to strike the right balance.

"In the good old amateur days, some of the antics players got up to were probably worse than what happens now,” Irvine admitted.

"But it is a different ball game now. These players are professionals, they have their reputations at stake, the reputations of their clubs, their countries and the Lions.

"They have a huge responsibility. We also know that some of them will be targeted. It is something we are very conscious of.

"It is something Warren is to be congratulated on. Wales have had one or two interesting moments in years gone by but they have had an exemplary record in the last two years.

"Warren is a well-balanced man. He understands what teamship and camaraderie
is all about.”

Gatland was selected as head coach by the Lions committee after leading Wales to the semi-finals of the World Cup and a 2012 Six Nations Grand Slam.

The official appointment was delayed after Gatland broke both heels falling from a ladder at his Waikato home, as the Lions had to be certain he would be fit to lead the tour.

Gatland will coach Wales in their autumn internationals against Australia and New Zealand but otherwise he has been seconded to the Lions full-time. Rob Howley takes over the reins with Wales.

"This is the highest honour, to be selected as the Lions coach,” said Gatland, who was forwards coach in South Africa three years ago.

"It’s a massive responsibility to the players and coaches that have gone before me and to 125 years of Lions history.”

Gatland wants to appoint his coaching team before the autumn internationals. He is looking for continuity from 2009, which points to the likes of Graham Rowntree and Shaun Edwards, but he also plans to introduce some fresh faces.

Sam Warburton, Chris Robshaw, Paul O’Connell and Brian O’Driscoll all feature in Gatland’s early captaincy short-list, although he stressed much can change over the next 10 months.

The squad will be no bigger than 35 players and Gatland is excited by the depth of talent at his disposal as the Lions aim for their first Test series win since 1997.

"Wales pushed Australia really close in the summer,” Gatland said.

"If you’re able to pick the best of the best from the other countries, then how much stronger potentially is a Lions squad going to be?

"That’s why I’m really excited.”

There are logistical and selection hurdles Gatland has to overcome. The Lions leave for Hong Kong together on May 27, just two days after the Aviva Premiership and RaboDirect Pro12 finals.

Gatland will bring those players not in finals action into camp early to begin preparations but he is resigned to being without half his squad until 24 hours before departure.

The Lions have the additional problem of some leading players - Mike Phillips, Gethin Jenkins and James Hook, for example - being based in France.

The Top 14 final is not until June 1, the same day the Lions play the Barbarians, and Gatland will not countenance late arrivals on tour.

His first mission will be to fly to France tomorrow and hold talks with potential tourists and their clubs over release for the Lions.

"You don’t want to cut your nose off to spite your face in terms of making those players unavailable if they are really, really important to you,” Gatland said.

"But if it means making a really, really tough call to say someone is not available then we might have to make that call.

"It might be the best thing for the squad. We’re not going to make a hard-and-fast rule, but we are capable of making tough decisions if that’s what is right for the squad.”

end

LIONS RECEIVE QUALITY ASSURANCES

By Alex Lowe, Press Association Sport Rugby Union Reporter

The British and Irish Lions have received assurances they will not be facing weakened provincial teams in the early matches of next year’s tour of Australia.

Three years ago, the Lions were disappointed that South Africa withdrew their international stars from the tour matches, to keep them fresh for the Test series.

But the Australian Rugby Union have committed to fielding their strongest possible provincial teams, at least until the NSW Waratahs game a week before for the first Test.

"We were disappointed in South Africa that we didn’t get the calibre of teams that we thought we were going to encounter,” said Lions chief executive John Feehan.

"It is also fair to say that the tougher the teams are the better the preparation for the Test games.

"We have got a commitment from the ARU to put their best teams out. They want
to play their internationals through the provincial games, perhaps up to a week before the first Test, and they have a commitment.

"It is not just to do with rugby but how they sell rugby union in Australia. They see the provincial games as a way of bringing rugby back to the general public in Australia.

"It is a very competitive sports market there with rugby league and Australian rules. For that reason they will not only price the games appropriately they also want to play their best players.

"They see it as in their interests. They are not doing it because they like us, necessarily.”

The first match of the Lions’ 125th anniversary tour is against the Barbarians in Hong Kong on June 1, just a week after the Aviva Premiership and Rabo Direct PRO12 finals.

"The Barbarians are earmarking this as one of the most important games they have ever played and for that reason alone they will be going out of their way to get a quality side,” Feehan added.

Warren Gatland’s men then face Super 15 outfits the Western Force and Queensland Reds, where the Lions will hope to be up against the likes of David Pocock, Quade Cooper and Will Genia.

Australia coach Robbie Deans may decide to rest his international players from the NSW Waratahs game, which is a week before the first Test in Brisbane.

The Lions then meet the ACT Brumbies and the Melbourne Rebels in midweek either side of the first Test. The second international is in Melbourne and the third in Sydney.

For Gatland, a strong preparation for the Test series is vital.

“From a coaching point of view you would like those Super Rugby sides to be as strong as they possibly could be,” he said.

"That is potentially where we got caught in 2009. Going into that first Test, we hadn’t been under any pressure at scrum time and then bam, we got a wake-up call in the first Test and we had to sort that our pretty quickly.

"There was no indication beforehand we were going to be under any pressure because we were playing teams without Springboks in their front row and they were being kept away.”

2013 BRITISH AND IRISH LIONS TOUR SCHEDULE:

June 1: Barbarians v Lions (Hong Kong Stadium)

June 5: Western Force v Lions (Perth, Paterson’s Stadium)

June 8: Queensland Reds v Lions (Brisbane, Suncorp Stadium)

June 11: Combined Country v Lions (Newcastle, Hunter Stadium)

June 15: NSW Waratahs v Lions (Sydney, Sydney Football Stadium)

June 18L: ACT Brumbies v Lions (Canberra, Canberra Stadium)

June 22: Australia v Lions (Brisbane, Suncorp Stadium)

June 25: Melbourne Rebels v Lions (Melbourne, AAMI Park)

June 29: Australia v Lions (Melbourne, Etihad Stadium)

July 6: Australia v Lions (Sydney, ANZ Stadium)

end

SMITH OVERCOMES INCREDIBLE ADVERSITY

By Alex Lowe, Press Association Sport

When David Smith sits on the start line of his Paralympic rowing heat on August 31, he would be forgiven for pausing just a moment to reflect on an extraordinary journey.

He won’t. Smith is too competitive, too focused on adding a Paralympic title to the world title he won in the mixed coxed fours in Bled last year to let his mind wonder.

But it has been some journey.

Smith, 34, overcame the club foot he was born with to represent Great Britain in karate and in bobsleigh, agonisingly missing out on a place at the 2006 Winter Olympics by one hundredth of a second.

He has now overcome a spinal tumour the size of a tennis ball and paralysis to head into the 2012 Paralympic Games as one of Britain’s leading medal hopes.

It is a story best told in his own words.

“I was born with a club foot and I was very close to having my right leg amputated,” Smith told Press Association Sport.

“It didn’t really set me up for a career in sport but I found a passion for karate and I competed for Great Britain between the ages of 15 and 19.

“But karate wasn’t an Olympic sport and around that time I got the bug to do an Olympic sport. I had always skied so I did a bit of that and somehow I found bobsleigh.

“Actually bobsleigh found me and I fell in love with it but I was having lots of problems and I never knew what was wrong with me.

“My neurological system kept shutting down. I had shooting pains in my legs and back.

“I went to the doctors for almost 10 years and was told I was doing too much training and to back off. There was never an answer to it.

“I missed out on the 2006 Winter Olympics. I tried to get back onto the team for 2010 but I had real problems with my health.

“Eventually in 2009 I decided to call it a day in bobsleigh.”

But Smith could not sit still for long.

“The physio I was seeing at the time said I would classify for Paralympic sport because of my foot. I went into rowing and that decision saved my life.

“The GB Rowing physio was working on my neck one day and found an abnormality. He sent me for an MRI and it came back showing a tumour the size of a tennis ball inside my spinal cord, trapping the nerves within it.

“For 10 years I had seen hundreds of doctors, physios, everything. It is such a rare condition that no-one had ever thought about it.

“Being told about the tumour was a relief because it explained why I had had 10 years of medical problems and why I had missed the Olympics.

“I had an amazing surgeon in Tom Cadoux-Hudson who rowed for Great Britain himself. He was so relaxed and said, ‘We’ll go in through the front of your neck, take out your vertebrae, cut through the spinal cord, remove the tumour and then rebuild your neck using metal cages and screws’.

“When I woke up I felt really good because the tumour wasn’t there and it had been living off my body. I felt I had been born again - but then a blood clot started to form in my spinal cord.

“A few days after being released from hospital I woke up completely paralysed. It was more scary for my mum.

“I got myself back in hospital and they went back in to drain the blood clot.

“I couldn’t really feel my legs when I came out of that surgery. I just felt like I had gone 20 rounds with Mike Tyson.”

But Smith was only ever going to react in one way. His determination saw him complete a remarkable comeback.

“I started rehab right away. I am a big believer that the body is dictated by the mind. As soon as I woke I was visualising myself running,” he continued.

“I had my surgery in May 2010. I got out of hospital at the start of July and I got back in a boat at the end of November.

“The one thing that couldn’t keep up was my left arm. I have some feeling in my hand and forearm but I don’t have any in my upper arm or shoulder and I don’t have any power or strength in it.”

Just six months after stepping back into a boat, Smith, James Roe, Naomi Riches, Pam Relph and cox Lily van den Broecke won the world championships in Bled.

“I have never really sat back and thought, ‘wow, I have just done that’. There has always been so much to focus on that I have never reflected on my the limitations or surgery,” Smith said.

“I have always had a positive mind that I have got to be on the start line in London. I don’t think, ‘this has happened to me or that has happened to me’.”

The mixed coxed four heats are on the first day of competition at Eton Dorney, with the final on September 2.

“The countdown is on now. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I would like to think we can win a medal,” he said.

“We train with the attitude we are not the world champions and that keeps you pushing hard. Hopefully all the work we have done will be rewarded.”

Physically, Smith will be looking backwards when he takes to the start line - because you have to in a rowing boat - but his sights will be set on a glorious end to a remarkable story.

end

Jamaica 1-2-3 in the 200metre final. Usain Bolt’s good mood was just abuot to be pricked when he was asked about Carl Lewis. Bolt declared he had “lost all respect” for Lewis.

Jamaica 1-2-3 in the 200metre final. Usain Bolt’s good mood was just abuot to be pricked when he was asked about Carl Lewis. Bolt declared he had “lost all respect” for Lewis.

The glorious Eton Dorney. A spectacular Olympic venue for the rowing and canoeing

The glorious Eton Dorney. A spectacular Olympic venue for the rowing and canoeing

Shanaze Reade on her way to a disappointing sixth place in the women’ BMX final

Shanaze Reade on her way to a disappointing sixth place in the women’ BMX final

Mo Farah on his way to completing the distance double with victory in the 5,000metres. 
This was one of the great sporting occasions I have witnessed, up there with Jonny Wilkinson’s drop goal in the 2003 RWC final, Usain Bolt’s Olympic dominance, the 2005 Ashes and the second Lions Test in 2009.
For 10 laps, the Olympic Stadium crowd roared him around the track, creating a Mexican wave effect as each section stood to cheer and wave their flags as he passed. 
For the final, extraordinary, 600m the entire stadium was on its feet. The noise was louder than when Jess Ennis completed her heptathlon triumph.
Farah was willed home by a simply remarkable outpouring of support, pride, emotion and ultimately elation. It was like nothing I had ever witnessed before. 
This picture, naturally, does not do that justice.

Mo Farah on his way to completing the distance double with victory in the 5,000metres.
This was one of the great sporting occasions I have witnessed, up there with Jonny Wilkinson’s drop goal in the 2003 RWC final, Usain Bolt’s Olympic dominance, the 2005 Ashes and the second Lions Test in 2009.
For 10 laps, the Olympic Stadium crowd roared him around the track, creating a Mexican wave effect as each section stood to cheer and wave their flags as he passed.
For the final, extraordinary, 600m the entire stadium was on its feet. The noise was louder than when Jess Ennis completed her heptathlon triumph.
Farah was willed home by a simply remarkable outpouring of support, pride, emotion and ultimately elation. It was like nothing I had ever witnessed before.
This picture, naturally, does not do that justice.

GB 1 Australia 3 in the men’s hockey bronze medal match on the smurf turf at the Riverbank

GB 1 Australia 3 in the men’s hockey bronze medal match on the smurf turf at the Riverbank

Men’s BMX final

Men’s BMX final

Laura Trott on her way to winning gold in the omnium

Laura Trott on her way to winning gold in the omnium

I spent the second week of the Olympics interviewing the track and field athletes in the stadium. 
In between the two athletics sessions I was able to watch some of the historic action elsewhere.
This is one of my favourite pictures of the Olympics - Jason Kenny celebrating after winning gold in the sprint.

I spent the second week of the Olympics interviewing the track and field athletes in the stadium.
In between the two athletics sessions I was able to watch some of the historic action elsewhere.
This is one of my favourite pictures of the Olympics - Jason Kenny celebrating after winning gold in the sprint.