Training in the pub? I'll drink to that.

By John Inverdale

(Telegraph, London - Friday, June 13, 2003)

There's a pub in Cardiff called the Old Arcade. You may have been there on international days. The walls are festooned with signed shirts, and they say that, in the good old days, the Welsh selectors used to meet in the public bar, pick the team in five minutes flat, (whatdya think Dai, same as the side that won last week?) and then settle down for a few pints of Brains SA.

I only mention this because when I was a student in the Principality, I used to arrange to meet my mate Steve in the Old Arcade most Monday evenings to discuss the previous weekend's action (on and off the field). Six o'clock was rendezvous time, mainly because pubs didn't open till then in those days, and also because we'd both been brought up to believe that only the aristocracy and alcoholics hit the booze before the sun was over the yard-arm.

This is, of course, a mantra that most of you reading this will have tried to adhere to for much of the remainder of your lives, but it becomes nigh on impossible once the domestic touring teams head for the southern hemisphere. Sky Television have a lot to answer for. Over the next couple of months, they're showing far too many matches.

First things first. You can't watch an international on your own. You have to be with friends, acquaintances, fellow bar occupants. As yet more forward passes go unpunished by Australian referees, another South African tries to provoke a bit of argy-bargy, and the All Blacks unearth yet another steamrolling centre in the midfield, you have to share the anger, the wrath and the envy. And here's the problem. If you're going to enjoy communal angst as Scotland and Wales are rolled over, mug up on how the Argentines might derail the Wallabies come the World Cup, and generally be a bit of a world rugby swot, you're going to have to spend a lot of time in the pub, or down at your local club. And with the best will in the world, it takes a herculean effort to resist the demon alcohol as France are leading the All Blacks with 15 minutes to go. "I'll have an orange and lemonade." I don't think so.

In the past, there have been days when you could start in Australasia at breakfast, before moving on to South Africa in the afternoon and Argentina in the evening. By the second half of the match in Buenos Aires, you can't remember who's playing. Or where you live.

So a few words of advice to those warming up for the television world cup, by acclimatizing with early morning kick-offs between now and August. Always occupy a position as far away from the bar as possible.

Ensure your best mates are too far away to offer to buy you a drink, and most crucially of all, don't take any money with you. (Over the years, I've found this tactic works particularly well). The next few weekends are important in terms of the World Cup. During October and November, you'll be in the pub, and then have to go to work, so discipline will be key. Everything in sport is about preparation. So with that in mind, the obvious solution is to ensure you get absolutely hammered every Friday night in the coming weeks. That way, you'll feel so wretched on Saturday morning, the last thing in the world you'll want is any alcohol. Believe me. It's the kind of attention to detail that Clive Woodward would undoubtedly approve of.