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the groom, he both “knows his stuff” and embodies a rare loyalty. “The club rallied and looked after Tom, but he’s worked hard,” Cole says. “I think that’s the thing with Leicester. The club looks after you, provided that you put in as well. If you’re looking for a free ride at Leicester, it’s just not going to happen. “On the other side of things, they will not let you down if you show the qualities that the club is supposed to have. You could be a local and love the club, having watched them as a kid. You could come from the outside and love the environment because your upbringing aligns with Leicester’s ethos. And that’s the way it works.”

view of his influence. Besides tallying 31 tackles and steering the scrum, Cole was extremely active. From launching lifters in the lineout to ramming breakdowns, he revels in busy anonymity. “I’m not the flashiest carrier,” he says. “I’m not the flashiest passer of the ball. But there is some stuff that I do well that I pride myself on, whether that is pushing in the scrum, lineout lifting, mauling, whether it’s clear-outs. “If I’m stood next to Billy Vunipola in the backline, I’m happy for Billy V to get the ball. I’ll clear out, because that’s a better result for the team than me carrying and getting knocked on my arse and then us losing the breakdown. If there are opportunities to carry, I’ll take them, yes.

“Other teamS might aCCept being FiFth Or Sixth – lOSing One big game, winning the next One. we dOn’t. at tigerS, yOu aSpire tO be better than that”

Malcolm Couzens/Getty Images

StatiStiCS and unSeen ClaSS

When he is not changing nappies, Cole is a big NFL aficionado. Tampa Bay Buccaneers are his team, with explosive Oakland Raiders defensive end Khalil Mack his favourite player. Might he associate more closely with offensive linemen, though – the unheralded units who protect the quarterbacks from pass-rushers? Over the course of four matches and 257 minutes for England last autumn, Cole made just one carry and two passes. “I-thank-you,” he jokes, with a point of acknowledgment. “And those passes slipped out of my hands.” But don’t let those meagre numbers colour your

“But just carrying to be seen by people to go: ‘Ooh, he’s doing this’? I might be on the floor for as long as it’d take to make three clear-outs, or whatever. It’s that attitude. “I guess offensive linemen are only seen when they mess up; they get picked on when they give up a sack. Nobody sees them block, block, block. When people look in detail, they see what you do. But in some regards, [props] are often having a good game if they aren’t noticed as well.” Cole’s quiet contributions will be important over the next two months. Holders rather than hunters, England face a difficult Six Nations challenge. “Last year, with the new coaching staff, there was a


feeling that we started from scratch,” he says. “We are Grand Slam champions now, so we will be targeted. You don’t fly under the radar anyway, as England... “If you look at World Cup cycles, you have to get used to going into games as favourites and winning as favourites. The autumn was probably the first time in a while that the message was: ‘England should win all four games.’ If we didn’t win all four games, by this amount of points, we were terrible. “Those internal and external pressures shift. Expectations move from being happy at winning games, beating South Africa and beating Australia, to actually believing we should beat everyone. Ireland are as good as anyone, Scotland had a strong autumn. Even Italy beat South Africa. This year will be a harder competition because everyone knows what everyone else is about. Everyone is a stage further on.” Though Mako Vunipola is a significant absentee, England’s front-row stable looks healthy. Jamie George is more than an able stand-in for Dylan Hartley at hooker. Loosehead Joe Marler has Matt Mullan, Ellis Genge and Nathan Catt under him. Kyle Sinckler is impressing with Harlequins – and has done the same whenever he has replaced Cole from the bench. The blend of characters is varied, too. Cole does not mind revealing that live scrummaging gets heated – you can imagine spiky tyro Genge enjoying that – but insists the intensity is beneficial. “It’s co-operative competition,” he says, amused at what sounds like marketing jargon. “That’s the best way of looking at it. In any group, you need contrasting personalities. If there were six people like me, it would be very boring. Coaches do a good job of meshing those traits. And the underlying theme is always getting better.” Sinckler, who has admitted to growing up in the belief that he was a dinosaur (seriously – look it up), might seem to be a completely different fish to Cole, an understated social media abstainer. Cole reckons Sinckler is “more dynamic than I ever was” and that his muscular, 30-metre bursts ensure he is pushing for a starting spot. Perhaps the Tiger is too modest to recall his own past of barrelling runs. In any case, France – buoyed by their performances in narrow November losses to Australia and New Zealand – are a dangerous foe to face first up. “The French have fantastically skilful players in the backline who can offload and offload,” finishes Cole. “Three years ago in France, they went 80 metres to score in the last minute of the game to win. “But you know they’re going to try to beat you up in some regard as well, whether that’s at the scrum or maul. They take pride in that, especially against England.” Les Bleus will bring blunt force as well as traditional enterprise to Twickenham. The hosts are fortunate they have such a solid figure on their front line.


Profile for Sport Magazine

Issue 484  

The party's over - for Sport magazine, and for Leicester City. Their fleet-footed striker Jamie Vardy tells us about life after the miracle,...

Issue 484  

The party's over - for Sport magazine, and for Leicester City. Their fleet-footed striker Jamie Vardy tells us about life after the miracle,...