AT the age of 21 he achieved the dream of all young rugby players by appearing in a World Cup final, but Mathew Tait got more carried away by the 2003 tournament when he watched England’s victory from home.
The best place to witness the patriotic frenzy which accompanies any half- decent showing by a British national side in a major sports competition is rarely where it takes place, and Tait admits the enormity of what he was involved in is only now starting to dawn.
“It (the frustration of the 15-6 defeat to South Africa) has certainly got worse with time,” he admits. “Straight afterwards the whole surreal nature of the occasion meant to a certain extent you were closed off. Being in a hotel you weren’t aware of the magnitude of the whole thing, you kind of protect yourself from how big it is, otherwise you’d stay in bed all day!
“Certainly since it has dawned on us how big an achievement it was getting to the final. The disappointment has sunk in as to how big an occasion it was and how close we came to winning.”
So focused were Brian Ashton’s men that their contact with the outside world was negligible.
“I tend not to take too much notice of the media, good and bad,” Tait said. “It plays with your head a little bit but it’s obviously nice people are saying nice things.
“I spoke to my missus and she was saying how big a deal it was. We had a Press conference once a week, the only real contact we had with the media, apart from the last couple of weeks when we had people stationed outside the hotel.
“ Last time I was a spectator seeing it all build up on the TV, so being involved in the game was very strange.”
Like their cricketing counterparts, England rugby union players are internationals first and club players second, but after recovering from a minor knee injury, Tait is hungry for the “bread and butter” of Newcastle Falcons, starting with Saturday’s visit of Newport Gwent Dragons in the EDF Energy Cup.
“It’s a while since I’ve played for the Falcons and I’m looking forward to just getting involved and hopefully beating the Dragons,” he says.
“It’s nice to be involved in all the representative stuff but I’m looking forward to getting back into the bread and butter and being involved with the guys who worked so hard at the start of the season. It’s down to myself, Toby Flood and Jonny Wilkinson to make an impression and lift the performance to a certain extent.
“I managed to get the radio commentary of the Falcons games on my laptop when I was out there. Three losses wasn’t ideal, especially Bath at home, but we had a reasonable start and we’ve got to push on.”