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Extremely surreal

Part IV - England try their hand at the 'Awesome Foursome'

Phil Edwards Posted 13th September 2011 view comments

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England jumper: James Haskell strikes a pose at the 134m-high Nevis Bungy jump

England jumper: James Haskell strikes a pose at the 134m-high Nevis Bungy jump

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Week Three: Queenstown

Robert Louis Stevenson once wrote that "to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive". Then again, I'm pretty sure the old boy never had cause to venture as far afield as Queenstown in New Zealand.

Admittedly the journey here from Dunedin, driving a breathless old diesel van full of luggage, was pretty spectacular in terms of the surrounding countryside.

However the town itself is 'off- the-dial' beautiful. Built on an inlet known as Queenstown Bay, it's surrounded by mountains now dusted with the sweet icing of the last of the winter snows. It reminds me a bit of Bellagio in the Italian lakes. Only it's bigger and full of shops hiring skis, snowboards, outdoor survival equipment and other manly stuff.

Queenstown has long been used as a base by film crews eager to make full use of some of the most spectacular backdrops available anywhere on earth. Near here they filmed such classics as 'The Lord of the Rings', 'X-men Origins: Wolverine', and of course 'Carry on Camping' with Sid James and Barbara Windsor.

Almost as soon as we arrived, surreal things began to happen. One of the Sky cameramen and I popped up to the England team hotel for a quick interview and afterwards, just as we were leaving, we spotted the entire contingent of Leicester-based players waiting for a bus into town. Being kind-hearted souls we offered them a lift which they graciously accepted.

It meant that a quite breath-taking amount of rugby talent headed off in the back of a Rent-a-Van as AC/DC's 'Highway to Hell' blasted out of the radio. As I said, quite surreal.

Monday September 12

This was a 'day off' for the players who, you might imagine, would seize the opportunity to enjoy some well-earned rest after that brutal encounter with Argentina. To my knowledge, the only player who did take it fairly easy was Jonny Wilkinson, who did what he does every day (including Christmas Day) and went off with a bag of balls to practise kicking. The rest of the squad decided to sample the many attractions on offer in the area and a few of them, the hardened adrenaline-junkies in the squad, opted to tackle what's known in these parts as the 'Awesome Foursome'.

This comprised white-water rafting, a hair-raising helicopter ride, jet-boating down gorges barely wide enough to accommodate the craft and its screaming occupants, then finally the 'piece de résistance', the Nevis Bungee jump. This nerve-shredding, buttock-clenching 134 metre plunge into an anonymous canyon some 12 miles from Queenstown is the most extreme bungee experience in New Zealand, the land where this bonkers pastime was invented.

Simply reaching the jump-off position, suspended as it is on cables between the sides of the gorge, was bad enough. We all boarded a tiny cable car (basically a steel cage), along with our cameras and other equipment, which then inched its way out to the middle of the gorge. As it did we tried not to look down, while ageing by about twenty years.

Once in the middle, Simon Shaw, who had at least done a smaller bungee jump before, led the way with the first plunge. Chris Ashton swallow dived into the canyon, followed by Tom Palmer and Ben Foden. Next up was Nick Easter (nicknamed Minty) who suddenly had an attack of sanity when he stepped towards the abyss. To cries of "Go on Mint. You can do it son" etc. he spent around a minute or so summoning up every last ounce of courage before plunging head-long into the cold, unforgiving emptiness, with the biggest cheer of the day ringing in his ears!.

Naturally there were those who needed no second bidding. James Haskell stepped up to the plate, smiled for the camera and nonchalantly leaped into the gorge while pulling a funny face. The other head-case to complete the final stage of the "Foursome" with nothing more than a shrug of the shoulders was Dylan Hartley. In a pair of shorts!

Tuesday September 14

It's back to the day-job for the guys today. Two tough training sessions in the cold and a liberal helping of video analysis back at the hotel. They may have overcome their inhibitions in Queenstown, but this week it's all about overcoming Georgia, back in Dunedin, on Sunday.

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