The Lewsey interview

Josh Lewsey’s last act in an England shirt was to propel them towards the World Cup final with his early try in that Paris semi-final that helped send the French crashing out. He hasn’t worn the red rose since, but is ready and waiting to be a part of what he says could be another golden era. In the July issue of IRN, we caught up with him, and in case you missed it, you can now read the full interview here…

When England were stumbling through a 2008 Six Nations campaign that was, at times, devoid of imagination and flair, seasoned rugby fans couldn’t help but wonder why Josh Lewsey, one of the most dynamic players in the Guinness Premiership, was struggling to get a look-in.

Iain Balshaw was looking increasingly uncomfortable under high balls booted in his direction as the tournament progressed and when a change at full-back was inevitable ahead of the Scotland clash, Brian Ashton preferred to move Danny Cipriani out of position before the young Wasps star delayed his debut with an illadvised late-night tour of London.

What never seemed to be considered was a return to the international fray for Lewsey - a man who was proving instrumental in Wasps’ revival in the league and an explosive athlete with experience at the game’s very highest level.

That led to the obvious question: What has Josh Lewsey done wrong? To his credit, Lewsey, who also missed out on England’s summer tour of New Zealand with injury, is the ultimate professional and while he would like to have been involved in the Six Nations, he kept his head down, his mouth shut and let his rugby do the talking with Wasps.

“Was I disappointed to be left out? Yes, of course there was disappointment,” he admits. “But in all honesty I was really happy with my form for Wasps and felt the club was really going places. We were dynamic, we were winning games and I was enjoying my rugby.

“Playing for England is great but it’s only great if you’re winning and it’s a set-up taking you where you should be. Let’s face it, England should be consistently there or thereabouts as the best team in the world with the resources that we have. You’ve got to be part of a set-up where you feel everybody is moving in the same direction - that’s ultimately what players want.”

Lewsey, who made his England debut during the infamous ‘Tour from Hell’ in 1998, was a key member of Clive Woodward’s World Cupwinning team in 2003. He scored five tries in the 111-13 defeat of Uruguay and was seen by many as the final piece in England’s championship-winning puzzle.

After that World Cup, Lewsey played in more England games than any other individual from 2003-2006. He played in five matches at the 2007 World Cup and scored the semi-final try against France that catapulted England into a Paris showdown with South Africa.

He did not finish that semi-final due to a hamstring injury and has not pulled on an England shirt since.

But with Martin Johnson leading a new regime, Lewsey has the chance to impress once again and no one can question his credentials, experience and high-octane approach to the game.

“I do think Martin Johnson getting involved with England means we are on the dawn of a really exciting time in English rugby,” Lewsey says. “I’m really enjoying my time at Wasps and if England decide they want to involve me, that would be great. If they don’t, as long as I’m enjoying my rugby, I’ll settle for that.
But I still have international ambitions.”

And those international ambitions do not just relate to England. Lewsey is well aware of a certain tour taking
place in South Africa next summer.

He admits: “At the end of next year is the Lions’ tour and most players who play in the Premiership would regard that as their long-term goal.”

If Lewsey maintains the form he showed in the last Premiership campaign, he is likely to have a very good chance of adding to the three Lions caps he won in 2005. He was a key performer for a Wasps side that
clinched a sixth league title with victory over Leicester in May.

Lewsey, the winner of 55 England caps, has played full-back, wing, centre and fly-half at various points in his career, and he believes being able to focus on one position this season really helped his game.

“I’ve enjoyed playing in a settled position this year,” he says. “I spent the entire year at full-back and it’s no coincidence that my form was good as a result of that. If you’re chopping and changing positions, it always
takes you a few weeks to get used to that new role. Then you go off to England and when you come back there might be injuries and you fit in where needed.

“I am willing to do that because it is part of being a team player and that’s what you get paid for. But this season because I wasn’t going off to play for England, it allowed me to have a settled place in the side and I wasn’t chopping and changing.”

Lewsey has a fierce determination to win and, fortunately, that is a mentality shared by his team-mates at Wasps. Ian McGeechan’s men were languishing in eighth place in the Premiership at Christmas yet rebounded to win 13 of their last 15 league contests, including that championship battle with Leicester in front of more than 82,000 fans at Twickenham, where Lewsey scored a stunning try just before half-time.

“It was a strong finish and our run started as soon as we got back from theWorld Cup,” he says. “Everyone wants to produce British players but the flip side is that on international weekends, your club is going to lose senior players to call-ups. That vindicates the play-off system.

“Teams who are handicapped have a fair chance. There are at least nine or 10 weeks in the year when you lose players on international weekends. That is the challenge facing the clubs and the balance is a tough one to achieve but Wasps have probably contributed as many, if not more, England players to the national side over the past couple of years than any other and will continue to do that.

“It’s a testament to the players, the coaching staff and everybody else at the club who pulled in the right direction. To finish second in the league and then to win the play-off final was a huge achievement.”

But was Wasps’ rise to the top really that surprising? Probably not. “We have a winning mentality at Wasps,” Lewsey admits. “And one of the biggest instigators of that belief was Lawrence Dallaglio. The biggest respect I can pay him is in the legacy that he left in terms of his characteristics. Lawrence could be a
brutal character, but he was a winner.

Those characteristics have been passed on to other young players coming through on the Wasps’
conveyor belt.

“The likes of Tom Rees, James Haskell, Danny Cipriani, Dom Waldouck, Tom French, and George Skivington have picked up the same mentality and they have a ruthless approach to winning when it matters.
That is the mentality you need to win consistently on the big stage.”

As he gets some much-needed rest over the summer, the 31-year-old with the body and physical skills of a
man 10 years his junior is itching to get going again in 2008-2009. “I feel great,” he insists.

“I’ve worked very hard and I’ve always been very conscious of my fitness levels. I feel fantastic at the moment and feel very good about having stayed out of the summer tour because I’ve had a niggling Achilles’ injury and had played 12 months of rugby with the World Cup last year.

“The biggest goal for me is to be fit at the start of next season. I want to have a really good pre-season and start the year fresh rather than being tired and carrying injuries coming off the back of another tour.

That was the decision made and I feel it was the right one. I’m now really looking forward to next