‘I was just at home, feeding the kids, then got the phone call’: Like most of us, Ben Spencer watched England’s New Zealand semi on TV… Now he’s in Japan and ready to help win the Rugby World Cup final
- Ben Spencer says being called-up to England’s World Cup squad has been ‘crazy’
- The Saracens scrum half was needed in Japan after the injury to Willi Heinz
- He has limited Test experience but could play a part in the sport’s biggest game
- Spencer says he was feeding his children when the got the all important call
- He believes he is more than ready to make an impact in Saturday’s showpiece
Ben Spencer says it has been ‘crazy’ – and it could be life-changing too. On Saturday, he was feeding his children at home and preparing for a match against Leicester. Then the call came.
The next day, instead of playing for Saracens at Welford Road, the scrum-half was on a flight to Tokyo, knowing that he would be taking part in the World Cup Final.
England had only included two scrum-halves in their 31-man tournament squad, so when Willi Heinz was injured in the win over the All Blacks last weekend, Eddie Jones needed to summon a replacement.
Ben Spencer flew from Heathrow on Monday to step in for injured scrum-half Willi Heinz
Eddie Jones needed the Saracens man to fill a place on his bench for the Rugby World Cup final
Spencer arrived in the Japanese capital and he has been getting up to speed in training with the rest of the Red Rose squad over the last few days. Having been named on the bench for the showpiece showdown with South Africa at Yokohama Stadium, the 27-year-old spoke about a surreal sequence of events.
Asked if he had come to terms with the sudden call-up and the scenario he finds himself in, Spencer said: ‘No. I don’t think so. I was chatting to one of the lads yesterday and saying that I’ve not really had the chance to process the whole situation yet. It’s been a crazy few days, and a brilliant few days. I’ve loved getting back in with the squad, and it’s just been mental really.
‘I was sat at home on Saturday watching the game, and for a few hours after it I didn’t really know what was happening. Then a few hours later I got the phone call. Like I said, it’s been a crazy few days and I’m really excited to get stuck in.
‘I trained all week with Saracens and then we were due to play Leicester on the Sunday. I got the voicemail Saturday afternoon and then was on a flight Sunday morning. I arrived here on Monday morning. The team manager rang me and said, “We want you to come to Japan”, so that was it.
‘When I got the call it was a bit like, “Right, let’s get ready for a World Cup Final”.’
Spencer joined up with the England squad at their hotel out in Tokyo Bay, by Disneyland, before they switched to a city-centre location for the rest of this week. Jones greeted him with a reminder about one of his favourite stories – how ex-New Zealand fly-half Stephen Donald had been whitebaiting when he received an emergency call from the All Blacks and went on to kick the penalty which won his country the 2011 World Cup.
‘I don’t quite have a Stephen Donald story, you know, on a boat, fishing,’ said Spencer – well aware of the tale frequently referenced by England’s head coach. ‘I was just at home, feeding the kids, then got the phone call. They are a bit too young to understand, but my partner was thrilled. They actually got here this morning. It’s an exciting week for all of us.’
While he has been regularly involved with England for some time, Spencer does not have much Test game-time to his name. In fact, he has precious little. There have been three brief cameos so far, amounting to a grand total of 18 minutes on the field. Two of the appearances came on the tour of South Africa last summer and both matches ended in English defeats.
However, he has been mindful of making sure he was in the right physical condition, in case he was needed out here. And he feels integrated already, saying: ‘The good thing was that I’d spent quite a lot of time with the squad in pre-season, so I know what’s going on and I’m not too out of the loop. It’s not been too difficult to get up to speed.
‘In terms of being ready, he (Jones) spoke about being in the best condition of your life and career, and I’ve worked hard back at the club since I’ve been back there. It was huge disappointment not making the original squad, but Eddie said to the guys who weren’t in the squad that anything can happen at the World Cup and the lads had to be ready.
‘It’s hugely exciting. It’s every kid’s dream to play in a World Cup Final so for me to be out here and hopefully play on Saturday… it’s amazing.’
Jones and his assistants had no qualms about calling up a player who is still a relative novice at international level. Attack coach Scott Wisemantel said: ‘We monitor what the players are doing. We watch all their rugby. The thing about Benny is that with Saracens, he is scoring tries and his bread-and-butter work – his passing and kicking – is excellent, so there’s no problems there. The other thing is that he is fit, extremely fit. We had to make a decision quickly and we knew Ben was ready.’