Henry Slade has gone from having the cares of the world on his shoulders – to having the world at his feet.
The stylish England midfielder used to be unable to focus on his game if he tied a shoelace up wrong. Now he is 80 minutes from rugby immortality.
Slade lives with obsessive compulsive-disorder, OCD to those that know it best. If you think it has been a minor matter in his life, you haven’t spoken to him.
“It was constricting my mind,” admitted the Exeter star, who has been charged with coming off the bench and closing out Saturday’s World Cup final.
“Stupid stuff like having to turn the light switch off in a certain way. If I did it differently before leaving the house to go to a game I felt something bad would happen.”
If that sounds bizarre he tells another story about trying to grow a patch of lawn with such care and attention that he cut it with scissors.
In late 2015 Slade broke his leg. It was the sort of injury any rugby player could suffer on any given weekend, only he didn’t see it that way.
“Before that game I remember thinking to myself, ‘Oh I didn’t tie that lace right’,” he recalled. “I was like, ‘Nah, that’s fine’. Then I got injured and I thought I’d brought it on myself. And that made me feel even worse.”
This was Slade on his journey from teenage hot prospect to fully fledged international, one who came of age in grand style with his two-try display against Ireland in Dublin on the opening Six Nations weekend in February.
“It reached a point that I had to do something about it,” he explained. “So I started deliberately not doing my boot up ‘right’ in training, deliberately doing it ‘wrong’.
“My only way out of it was to prove to myself that what I thought were massive things actually didn’t matter. I finally reached a point where I’m able to relax so much more, not only in rugby but life. It’s freed me up.”
This eureka moment served a twin purpose as Slade’s other issue used to be that he would dwell on mistakes, which would lead to another one.
He said: “As I stopped worrying about the OCD so my ability to park any error improved, to the point that If I make a mistake now my mindset is to get excited about the next job and do something good the next time.
“So, say I knock on, at the next scrum my mindset is to get excited about making a good tackle, or maybe a turnover.”
Even now, with a World Cup final ahead of him, Slade adheres to that ‘next job’ philosophy. It is about first carry, first defensive set. Talk of cups and victory parades are for others.
Which is why England are where they are – a team progressing one step at a time secure in the knowledge that one day soon that next step will get them to where they want to be.