Ruaridh McConnochie delighted by shock call-up as Eddie Jones explains England selection
Unveiled in the incongruous surroundings of a Spanish classroom at a Bristol school, you could have forgiven the uncapped 27-year-old for wondering if he was trapped in the oddest of dreams.
At any moment a teacher was bound to come along, clip him around the ear and tell him to concentrate on his tenses.
But it really was happening. McConnochie was in the 31 – the unknown bolter Eddie Jones had long wanted to summon from the shadows just as the world champion All Blacks did with Nehe Milner Scudder four years ago.
In a World Cup squad surprisingly short on experience as Jones lost faith in his old guard close to the tournament, the former Nuneaton wing who appeared on Jones’s radar in March when he troubled Exeter for Bath at Sandy Park - is the definitive rookie.
Even he wouldn’t have believed it possible a year ago had someone mentioned the possibility when he was scrabbling around for a professional contract having stepped away from the sevens circuit.
“I wouldn’t have believed them. Not at all,” McConnochie said. “I’d love to say all the clubs were coming to me but it was a bit of both. We were obviously asking around and Bath seemed quite interested.
“I didn’t know how the first year was going to go. It could have been that I gave it all I could and it just wasn’t meant to be but I have absolutely loved it and everything that has come with it has been great.
“My first World Cup memory was probably that Wilkinson drop goal in 2003 and stuff like Jason Robinson scoring in that final but also backing it up in 2007 - those memories stick out a lot and it’s cool to be part of that journey now.
“I don’t think you worry about the lack of experience. At the end of the day, you want your 31 best players there. I think it’s the 31 best guys on the plane at the moment so hopefully we go there and we do England proud and we do ourselves proud.”
Jones admitted himself after naming a squad with 1007 caps – 477 fewer than New Zealand mustered in 2015 – that its make-up had squewed further away from the tried-and-tested than he once envisioned.
But after revealing it at Blaise High School – part of the RFU’s state school programme - he explained he had tried to stay ahead of the curve.
“I'm convinced it's our best 31. I could have picked more experienced players but I just don't feel they'll give us what the younger guys will give us,” said Jones,
“One of the vital things about selection is knowing when a player is just about to fall off. Maybe because of a physical or an attitudinal or an emotional reason, they can't just give you what they did give you.
“After two years I thought we would carry quite an experienced team to the World Cup. Then I found out I needed to make changes so I had to start again.”
So no Chris Robshaw, no Danny Care and no Dylan Hartley whose knee injury rendered him unavailable in any case. No Mike Brown or Ben Te’o, for other reasons, either.
Included instead will be one-cap wonders Lewis Ludlam, Willi Heinz and Jack Singleton.
It is a bold strategy from Jones. Time will tell whether it is the right one.