Gomarsalltaking nothing for granted; INTERNATIONAL RUGBY UNION: Argentina forwards set to provide England's keen young talent with another harsh lesson

England's new scrum-half must adjust to international rugby extremely quickly. If he does not he knows that he will be replaced. Chris Hewett spoke to him
Click to follow
Two England appearances, two debut tries and two international coaches on his back; for Andy Gomarsall, life is a double-edged sword, full of sudden contradictions and swift reversals of fortune. His career at the top level may be in its infancy, but he has already experienced the proverbial slings and arrows.

It is just as well, then, that England's new scrum-half is blessed with precisely the sort of psychological profile that enables him to ride the roller-coaster of Test rugby without freezing on the uphill pulls or feeling queasy on the steep descents. Take the boundless commitment of a Dewi Morris, the resilience of a Richard Hill and the sheer joie de vivre of a Rupert Moon and you have something approaching the engagingly spirited young Wasp from Durham.

His first taste of Test action was pure nectar; Gomarsall, 22 years old and as keen as you like, gave the Italian back row such unmitigated hell at Twickenham last month that his brace of tries was scant reward for a display of prodigious energy. Then came the collision with the New Zealand Barbarians a fortnight ago. Different kettle of fish, different story.

Gomarsall took a fair degree of stick for his curate's egg effort against Justin Marshall, the brilliant Canterbury half- back whose state-of-the- art performances in the No 9 shirt had been central to New Zealand's tumultuous triumph in South Africa back in the summer. John Hart, the All Black coach, thought Gomarsall had been "pretty well exposed out there" and when Jack Rowell, his English counterpart, openly admitted this week that Kyran Bracken had been close to a recall for this afternoon's final pre-Christmas outing against Argentina, a lesser competitor might easily have disappeared into his shell.

Not Gomarsall. "I certainly don't think I played well against the New Zealanders, but I don't think I'd played that badly either," he said, full of beans after another training session at Twickenham. "That was one tough game against an outstanding side, but it was nothing more than I anticipated. I suspected beforehand that they would target me - good teams tend to focus on new boys like myself to see if we are up to it - and subsequent events bore me out. They were after me all match and, of course, it took some handling.

"It was always going to be difficult to emulate what happened against Italy. The expectations were high and while I have no problems with that - I have big expectations of myself - every time I touch the ball against the New Zealanders their back row lets me know they were around. I learned a heck of a lot in the space of that 80 minutes."

If Gomarsall, a gifted hockey player, is in the habit of putting his representative shirts on the walls, he will soon need a house the size of an art gallery. He now has a comprehensive, not to say priceless collection, having turned out for the London Division and the Barbarians as well as England Schools 18 Group (who he led to a first Grand Slam in 11 years in 1992), England Students, the Under-21s, the Emerging Players and England A before landing that treasured first cap. When Rowell talks about the systematic identification and development of talent, one of his favourite conversational hobby horses, he must be tempted to hold up his new scrum- half as a model.

Ten years ago, five even, that sort of background would have guaranteed Gomarsall a long run in the national side, but England's increasingly methodical approach to squad-building means that nothing can be taken for granted any longer. Bracken, revitalised since his move from Bristol to Saracens last summer, would need no second invitation to rebuild his own Test career and with Matt Dawson, Austin Healey and the eye-catching Gloucester youngster Scott Benton in the pursuing pack, a single moment's complacency might easily be one too many.

"I've got to perform, haven't I?" admitted Gomarsall. "Every time, without fail. If I don't, there are plenty of scrum-halves out there who will. It's a position of strength for England at the moment and unless you can handle competition and thrive on it, use it positively to force the best from yourself, you'll get left behind."

Happily, Gomarsall's club environment keeps him on the straight and narrow. With two of his fellow Wasps, loose forwards Lawrence Dallaglio and Chris Sheasby, in the current England starting line-up and his good friend and half-back partner Alex King on the bench, the peer pressure is entirely supportive.

"That Wasps camaraderie helps a great deal. We train together at the club and keep each other in the right frame of mind. We're pretty close - if any of us has a problem, it's a problem shared - but then, it's a pleasure to be involved in the England set-up, too. For a scrum-half, it's wonderful to play behind such a fantastic ball-winning front five... The England tight forwards are a dream to work with."

Talking of tight forwards, Gomarsall is perfectly aware that he will see another very decent unit in action at close quarters this afternoon. It is an article of faith with Puma packs that set-piece ball is sacrosanct and the scrum-half expects to make an early acquaintance with a substantial wall of blue and white shirts.

"I've never played against an Argentinian side at any level but I know what they're about. They love the physical side of the game, the rough and tumble, and that means a particular set of problems for an opposing scrum-half. It suits me fine, though, because I relish that sort of contest." Despite his crash course at the All Black school of hard knocks two weeks ago, Gomarsall is more than prepared to collect another bruise or three in pursuit of victory this afternoon.