Scruton's selection breaks cycle of bad luck

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The Independent Online

Nick Scruton's selection for England is the reward for a player who didn't know when to quit.

The names of the Melbourne full-back Gareth Widdop and Wigan's second-rower Joel Tomkins in Steve McNamara's squad for the Test against France next Saturday might be more eye-catching, but neither of them has had to battle to get this far like Scruton has.

When he was a young player at Leeds, his progress was repeatedly interrupted when he broke his leg, hand and both wrists. He was sent out on loan for a season at Hull and finally decided 18 months ago that if he wanted regular first-team rugby, he would have to leave Headingley altogether.

He joined McNamara at Bradford and his fortunes changed immediately. "People always ask me whether I regret leaving Leeds, with the two Grand Finals they've won since, but I don't at all," he says. "It was a difficult decision to leave your home-town club when you've been there since you were 16, but it has worked out well for me."

Scruton has hardly missed a game in the front row since making that decision and has achieved a level of consistency that has delighted McNamara. "He's a player you know is going to turn up and play to his best, or very close to his best, every week," he says.

That respect is echoed by opponents – and now potential team-mates – such as St Helens' James Graham. "He's tough to play against and he thoroughly deserves his call-up," Graham says.

Similarly, few would argue with the inclusion of the elder of Wigan's two Tomkins brothers. Joel's wide running and considerable ball skills have impressed McNamara for the last year and a half. The odds are on him and Sam becoming the first siblings to represent their country since Paul and David Hulme in 1989.

Widdop is a slightly different case. He has played only two first-grade games for Melbourne, and McNamara says it was his performance in the second, last weekend against Canterbury, that finally convinced him.

The 20-year-old from Halifax emigrated with his family five years ago and has found his senior chances restricted by understudying the world's best full-back, Billy Slater. But McNamara has seen enough of him to be convinced of his vast potential and, as the only full-back in the squad, he will certainly play at Leigh.

You could argue that selecting Widdop now is premature, but it is also a shrewd move by the England coach to get him to commit himself to the land of his birth, rather than his residence, at this early stage.

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