Trekking across Argentina in a bus is not the standard way to celebrate a birthday, but it was how England hockey player Georgie Twigg spent her 23rd last Thursday.
Not that she was complaining. Surrounded by the rest of the England hockey squad as they made the near 800-mile trip from Buenos Aires airport to the setting of the World League Final in Tucuman, Twigg assured BT Sport she was in good company.
“When you go on a trip somewhere it’s really fun. It’s a really good squad: a lot of friendships, a few jokers, lots of different characters.”
There may be some new faces from the Great Britain squad that claimed British hockey’s first Olympic medal in 20 years with bronze at London 2012, but the England players are a tight-knit group, according to Twigg.
We played Articulate in the corridors at the Euros, which was hilarious. We got the whole team involved."
That bond was cemented in the summer, when England enjoyed an impressive run to final of the EuroHockey Championships, scalping heavyweights Holland along the way, but ultimately losing out to Germany in the final. Consistent with tradition, it was an agonising penalty shoot-out that sealed their fate.
Surbiton midfielder Twigg's status in the squad borders on veteran, having established herself as an ever-present in the England set-up since her debut in 2010. She's enjoyed welcoming some fresh faces to the fold.
“There’s a really good atmosphere around the team at the moment,” she said. “At the Europeans, we seemed to bond really well.
“We played Articulate in the corridors, which was hilarious. We got the whole team involved.”
World League Final: The groups
- POOL A: England, Germany, Korea, Netherlands
- POOL B: Argentina, Australia, China, New Zealand
There’s also the inevitable banter, with the squad’s youngest member, and Twigg’s Articulate partner, Lily Owsley attracting most of the stick, while defender Sally Walton is the resident joker.
Twigg added: “We bully Lily little bit because she’s the youngest, she’s the 18-year-old. She’s hilarious.
“Sally is always good fun, she plays tricks on people and things. I remember a couple of years ago I was sharing with Maddie (Hinch) and Sally and Christa (Cullen) were sharing a room and we stole their passports. At the end they were terrified, they couldn’t find them anywhere. They’d previously moved our beds out of our room into the corridor, so it was a bit of a two-way thing.”
Much of the satisfaction for Twigg comes from seeing how the relationships in the squad translate onto the field.
“If you all get on and have fun off the pitch, then actually when you’re on the pitch you can look to other people who you relate to and have a close friendship with,” she said.
“When times are tough in the last 10 minutes of the game, you’ve been through it all together, so it helps so much more when you can look to each other and get that support from each other.”
But it’s not all Articulate and passport-swapping pranks. Twigg says the build-up to the World League Final has been especially gruelling as she and her team-mates worked hard to ensure they were in the best possible shape to combat the scorching temperatures of Argentina’s summer.
“It’s going to be a tough tournament: The top eight sides in the world and 42 degree heat,” she added.
“Our first two games are at nine am, which will still be hot, but our last two are at about 11, which will be boiling.
“You just have to get on with it. We’ve been working really hard since the Europeans, really working on our fitness.
“That bonds you as well. The extra-hard running sessions we have to do, you’ve seen what other people have gone through and it makes you closer.”
Along with the weather, England will have to negotiate a tricky group including Olympic champions Holland, European champions Germany and world number eight side South Korea, who beat New Zealand – ranked third in the world – on the way to the final.
The Dutch are always a tough opposition and there’s probably a bit of rivalry there now, after the Europeans."
She said: “We’ve got a tough group with Germany and Holland, and with South Korea we don’t really know what to expect. We played against Korea in the Olympics but it’s not a side we regularly play against. Asian sides do play a different style of hockey to what we play.
Twigg has no doubt that the toughest game in the group will be against the top-ranked Dutch, who now have revenge as an added incentive after losing to England in the semi-finals of the Euros in August.
“They’re always a tough opposition and there’s probably a bit of rivalry there now, after the Europeans,” she added.
“Also, our first two games are back-to-back, and that’s our second game, so there will be a few tired legs. It will be a real test of endurance and it’s always a gritty game, so I’m looking forward to it.
“If we go out there with the steeliness and the determination that we did at the Europeans then we definitely stand a chance.”
Not a BT Sport subscriber? Find out how to get BT Sport 1, BT Sport 2 and ESPN at bt.com/sport