From lunchtime with his kids, to playing in World Cup final
TOKYO (AP) — Ben Spencer was at his home in England on Saturday, feeding his two young kids lunch, when his cell phone rang.
It was England’s media manager out at the Rugby World Cup in Japan and she had a message to relay from head coach Eddie Jones.
Get on a plane to Tokyo.
“It was a bit of, ‘Right, let’s get ready for a World Cup final,'” Spencer said.
His kids — 2½-year-old Millie and 1½-year-old Oscar — were “too young to understand,” Spencer said, but he told his girlfriend and she was thrilled for him.
So Spencer packed his bags, got a flight on Sunday morning, and was in Tokyo by Monday morning.
On Thursday, he was selected on the reserves bench for Saturday’s title match against South Africa in Yokohama.
“I was chatting to one of the lads and saying that I’ve not really had the chance to process the whole situation yet,” he said. “It’s been a crazy few days, and a brilliant few days.”
Spencer has played a total of 20 minutes for England, across three appearances as a substitute. Two of them came in losses to South Africa on the June tour of 2018 and the other was in the 38-38 draw with Scotland in the Six Nations in March.
His first win for his country, therefore, could be in the World Cup final. And his kids and girlfriend have flown out to Tokyo to be there for it, too.
“The good thing was that I’d spent quite a lot of time with the squad in preseason so I know what’s going on and I’m not too out of the loop,” Spencer said. “It’s not been too difficult to get up to speed.”
Importantly, Spencer is fit, fresh and over the jetlag that made his first night in Tokyo “tough.” He’d been due to play for Saracens, the English and European champions, in an English league match against Leicester last Sunday but those plans had to change.
He would have been playing a league match against London Irish this Saturday. Instead, he’ll be at International Stadium in Tokyo, likely playing the final minutes of the game in his first World Cup appearance.
Spencer has been on standby after missing out on a call-up to the original squad, beaten to the two scrumhalf berths by first-choice Ben Youngs and Willi Heinz, a New Zealander who qualifies to play for England because of his English grandmother.
Heinz sustained a hamstring injury after coming on as a replacement late in the 19-7 win over New Zealand in the semifinals.
“Obviously it was huge disappointment not making the original squad,” Spencer said. “Like Eddie said to the guys who weren’t in the squad, anything can happen and it is gutting for Willi because he has worked so hard.
“(But) the lads had to be ready. We have gone over a few things defensively, and Willi and Ben Youngs have been great.”
England attack coach Scott Wisemantel said there have been “no problems” with Spencer slotting into the squad.
“The thing about Benny is that with Saracens, he is scoring tries, his bread-and-butter work — his passing and kicking — is excellent and the other thing is he is fit. He’s extremely fit,” Wisemantel said.
“When Willi got injured — and that was probably the hardest part in the sheds after the game — he knew. Even though he hadn’t had the MRI, he knew that his hamstring was gone. We had to make a call and we had to make it quickly. It was a no-brainer but we knew Ben was ready. It’s a great opportunity for him.”