The 2003 Rugby World Cup winner Ben Cohen has taken time to do an exclusive interview with Sport.co.uk. Cohen is currently playing for the Sale Sharks but he is set to leave the relegation-battling side in the summer as the club have announced that he will not be offered a new contract. The winger, who is 3rd on England's all-time top try scorers list, now talks to us about his past, his future and why remains unconvinced by Martin Johnson and his current England side.
As Sale have said that they will not be offering you a new contract at the end of the season, what is your main focus between now and then?
Well, I am still contracted to them and being professional is something that I pride myself on. I want to be professional to the end and I want to be associated with a team that survives relegation. I think we are pretty much there too, one more win so should definitely see us safe. It is tight but I have got to remain professional but at the end of the day we are in a cut throat business in sport.
How happy are you with your current form having comeback from the knee injury December?
I am in a team that has been struggling to win their own set-pieces. We have been struggling up front, we have got some really young boys in there due to a lot injuries so we have been playing off poor ball but that's where we are. But I am still happy with my own form, yeah.
Looking to the end of the season, would you consider playing abroad or in a lower division to prolong your career?
No no. I think you have always got to weigh up your options but I have got another two years in the Premiership in me, maybe more. But we will have to wait and see what comes up. I don't want to go abroad though, I want to stay at home.
I would like to play for at least another couple of years. I wouldn't say I am an old 32, I have played a lot of rugby but I haven't had a lot of injuries, touch wood. I am still hitting all my targets with my fitness and while I am doing that it would be a shame to retire but I am still weighing up all my options.
Cohen in familiar territory
It was reported that after winning the 2003 World Cup you lost your hunger for the game. Would you say you have rediscovered it now?
I think it was the workload that you go through in winning a World Cup. It started in 2000 and I went almost none stop for five or six years. I had my first proper break really in 2005 when I didn't make the Lions tour. I had about nine weeks off which was fantastic. I finally managed to put a few emotions to bed like winning the World Cup and being the best in my position which has helped me in the long run.
That is the one downside to being successful and winning trophies. When you are successful you are playing week-in-week-out for your club in all competitions and then you are also playing for your country which means you are training or playing pretty much everyday, every week, every month of the year.
When the season finishes you then go on a tour while your club is having its six weeks off, so you get back and they are two or three weeks into pre-season so you may get three weeks off and then are straight back into playing rugby. They try give you a half decent amount of time off but three weeks is nothing really. You end up playing catch-up as you are trying to get fit again but you don't get a pre-season so you can't get fit.
When your playing days do come to an end, would you want to stay involved in the game?
Yeah, most definitely. I am passionate about rugby, it's been my life from the amateurs to the professionals. It is something I would like to stay in whether it was through coaching, punditry or analysis.
I pride myself on being professional and I have enjoyed being around the youngsters at Sale and I like that side of coaching. I think if I did go into a coaching then it would be in the academy. It's good because the kids have so much energy, they want to learn and improve so that is something I would certainly be interesting in doing when I finish playing.
Who in the course of your career was the hardest player you played with or against?
I would say it would probably be someone I played with and that was a guy called Garry Pagel. He was a South African prop who won the World Cup in 1995 and he came to Northampton and he would have to the hardest players I have played with.
How envious are you of your former International team-mates like Jonny Wilkinson, Mike Tindall and Lewis Moody who won the World Cup with you in 2003 and are going to have the chance to win it again this Autumn?
Well I was in that position in 2007 and I chose not to go to the World Cup. I pulled out because my wife was having children and I wanted to be there for that. I had put rugby first for a long time and I finally changed that. I took myself out of that equation and now I have a totally different outlook on the game, I am passionate about rugby but my family comes first now. Am I envious of them? No. Am I happy for them? Most definitely because they are my friends and I wish them all the luck in the world.
So how would you rate England's chances in the upcoming World Cup in New Zealand?
It is a tough question. I think they will do quite well, they have the ability to do well. Look at the last World Cup, England were dreadful and they got to a World Cup final. It just shows you that it's all about how you perform on the day and how you pull together and how you are as a squad. Is everyone going to be living, eating, drinking and sleeping rugby? Will they capture the World Cup fever? How will the training go? The camaraderie between them may be fantastic but it's about how will they come together on the pitch? These are the questions that no one can answer until the tournament begins. In the 2007 World Cup, England got stuffed by South Africa in the group and went on to play them in the final, anything can happen.
As a prolific try scorer for England yourself, what have you made of the exciting prospect Chris Ashton over the past twelve months?
Well he is more than a prospect. He is delivering already which is great. However, the disappointing thing about Ireland was that some people went missing. As a winger like Chris Ashton or myself in my hay day, you live off other people's work. He is a great poacher, he is fantastic at it and I think he is a great, great talent.
But when the team are not performing well and things are a bit shaky and you are not going forward then it is hard for someone like himself to get into the game and make an impact. When your forward pack are on fire, they are going forward and you are on the front foot, as a winger you can't not score tries. So when things aren't going well, that is where I would have concerns with him as a player. That is where he needs to grow and learn at the top level.
You played alongside Martin Johnson, have you been surprised have you been by his and England's success over the last year after his relatively unconvincing start in the job?
He never had any experience of doing anything like this before. He has been in the job for three years now so he has had time to find his feet and find what sort of team he wants. I think he is finally getting a bit of consistency in selection which has seen them playing better rugby.
What do you think it is about him that has made him successful as a player and now a manager?
I don't think he has been successful yet. I think he is finally getting a team together that is playing good rugby. As a player, winning the Six Nations is great and all but you want the Grand Slam and they missed out on that and they will be disappointed about that. I am only thinking as a player, I don't mean to be degrading or put anybody down.
I just know as an International player you want to be the best in the world your position and as a team as well. You don't just want the Six Nations, you want the Grand Slam. They had an easy draw. They had a tough game against Wales away, granted, and they did well to win that won. It is a tough place to go and win and they ground a win there, fantastic. But then they had three home games on the bounce and that really played into their hands.
That win against Italy really snowballed into the other wins. But when it came to the pressure game, this was what I was disappointed with. Ireland away, Triple Crown, Grand Slam, St. Patrick's day, Ireland having been shafted by Wales the week before – there was a lot of pressure on that game, a lot of pressure. Ireland came out and won that game in the first five minutes and that's what disappointed me.
They have got to learn from that game and the next chance they will get to learn from that will be the first game of the World Cup. Their away form has also been a bit worrying. There is no doubt that they have got talent and they have got fitness but it is the mental side of things that they need to get right.
'Ben Cohen is a brand ambassador for High and Mighty www.highandmighty.co.uk