By JAMIE JONES-BUCHANAN
I REMEMBER standing in a room at our training complex at Loughborough University in front of a rolling camera. I had my England kit on, sporting a graffiti style St George’s cross across a chest that I pushed out with pride. I was excited, I felt almost chivalrous, beaming inside, when a voice behind the lens asked: “How does it feel to play for your country?”
“I feel like a Knights Templar.”
Growing up, I couldn’t think of many more esteemed role models. They were the physical elite, travelled on a vehicle of honour and integrity, searching out justice for the glory of God, whom they were often pictured kneeling before in humility. This was the closest I would ever be.
These days, at this stage of my career, the autumn internationals are a nice time to reflect on such career-making memories.
Instead of going into camp, I took some time off to enjoy a rare holiday, searching out English heritage sights in the south. It was on my way home that I visited a place which brought all those intensely patriotic feelings flooding back. Fifteen miles south of the Ricoh Arena – venue of this year’s bonfire night doubleheader – with family in tow, I came across an epic medieval fort, the foundations of which were laid by William the Conqueror following the Norman invasion 950 years ago.
Warwick Castle, as it’s known today, is without doubt the best historical park I have ever been to, creating a real medieval experience. What initially grabbed my attention were the re-enactments of the historic tales of ‘The War of the Roses,’ not so much Barrie McDermott against Stuart Fielden but the fight for the English throne between 1455 and 1485.
Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick and one of the richest men around – as in any Game of Thrones – played the ‘kingmaker,’ although I drew the line at saluting the theatrical House of Lancaster, Red Rose commander as he wound up the 18-metre high trebuchet; a fireball catapult.
“Are you all with me?” he hollered to the 200-strong crowd. “No, I’m from Yorkshire,” I shouted back, with little effect.
Such tribal rivalry, undoubtedly a core attraction of rugby league, is forgotten when in England camp.
Meeting and playing alongside those who would otherwise be a mortal enemy; Sean O’Loughlin, Chris Hill, James Graham, are just a few I’ve had the honour of singing the anthem with and fighting alongside in the shirt. There is no pre-season or lengthy period of planning and strategy, just men you respect, trust and hold in high regard; a collective burning desire to see it through in the torturing pace of the international environment.
We enter that particular battlefield not as enemies but brothers, taking on the foreign invaders from across the globe. You do whatever it takes, seemingly able to stretch the boundaries of your own physical limitations whilst engaged in the extreme honour of representing your country.
I can’t forget the game against the Kiwis in Hull when, having stood close to the spine tingling Haka, I went into the first tackle against Adam Blair, getting up drinking blood down from a gash in my mouth. But the reward of perseverance came when James Graham put me through a gap and Sam Tomkins came with me and I drew and passed to set up his try – magical.
Every opportunity could be your last at international level and I loved to stay on the pitch that bit longer after them to savour that which united players and crowd – I rarely got cheered at the KC Stadium! (continued below)
At the end of the tour at Warwick, I came running out of the dungeons chased by convincing actors and through static wax effigies, trying to climb desperately over my nine-year-old son to get out before him.
As on all smartly-routed tours, my journey ended in the shop, at the back which hung the biggest and shiniest sword
with a shinier price tag, above; it was all I was missing. On closer inspection I couldn’t believe my eyes as, again swelling with pride, it was an imitation of that used by the Black Prince, Edward of Woodstock, whose statue adorns Leeds City Square.
He was the knight I saw the most growing up, a representation of where I was from and famous for the battles he won for England fighting in France.
I felt as if the sword had been there for 800 years waiting my arrival and my eldest dug deep into his recent birthday money to buy it for me to complete our epic journey.
For my son, mad keen on rugby league, that Templar sword might represent the start of a chivalrous international journey of his own one day.