Greenwood set to join England's centre party

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The Independent Online
When Will Greenwood traded the champagne lifestyle of a Harlequins threequarter for the more earthly charms of the meat-and-two-veg brigade at Leicester last summer, jaws dropped in unison across the rugby community. He had, after all, volunteered himself for one of the great thankless tasks in British sport: the challenge of prising the ball away from Dean Richards and a Tigers pack whose idea of an expansive game was to call a two-man lineout.

Greenwood smiles knowingly as the old cliches about Leicester back divisions are trotted out for the thousandth time. "Well, when you have characters like Deano, Richard Cockerill and Darren Garforth up front, it takes a pretty persuasive person to get them to trust you with something as precious as the ball," he says, happily playing along with the joke that has the Welford Road three-quarters spending their mornings in the gym and their afternoons at the Job Centre in search of meaningful employment.

But Greenwood understands better than anyone that the reality of life at Leicester has undergone a sea change in the space of five months - the time it has taken Bob Dwyer, the new Tigers' coach, to add a harpfull of strings to the title favourites' bow. And it is the 24-year-old from Blackburn who is the most obvious beneficiary; superb performances against both his old club and the French aristocrats of Toulouse in the last 12 days have put his career in overdrive.

Given his difficulties in perming two centres from the current seasoned triumvirate of Phil de Glanville, Will Carling and Jeremy Guscott, the very last thing Jack Rowell needed in his Christmas stocking was a fourth midfield musketeer with an eye on the main chance. That, however, was precisely what he received; many good judges credit Greenwood with the shrewdest brain in English rugby and now that he has beefed up his physique under a professional training regime - "I used to be 12 stone wet through and found myself being squeezed out of rucks and mauls like pips from an orange, so I feel much more confident for putting on three stones in weight" - he boasts all the right equipment.

"People tried to portray my departure from Quins as in some way acrimonious, but there were no problems of that sort," he insists. "It was just that I felt Leicester presented me with more of an opportunity to see what I could do at the top level. It was not that I considered myself overshadowed by playing alongside someone of Will Carling's stature, but I sensed that people thought life must be dead easy in a Quins back division of such rich talent.

"I thought that if I could make an impact at Leicester, the perception would be very different. The backs here have taken a lot of stick in recent seasons, much of it unfair; even now, under Bob, we are playing uncomplicated rugby and just because we don't have 38 different moves, all of them more difficult to understand than E=MC2, it doesn't mean we are not effective."

Greenwood has not enjoyed a wholly comfortable ride since quitting his job on the dealing floor of the City and heading for the East Midlands as a full-time professional. The period of adjustment lasted rather longer than he would have liked and Dwyer openly admits that, when he first encountered the Durham University graduate about whom he had heard so much, he was distinctly underwhelmed. "Had you asked me three months ago, I'd have told you Will was over-rated, but as you are asking me now, I am happy to say that he will be an outstanding inside-centre with the talent to go all the way," the Australian says.

As befits the son of the respected former England forward and coach Dick Greenwood, he is mature enough to accept that only now is he beginning to produce the goods for Leicester. "I think the team as a whole is beginning to integrate more; when I arrived there seemed to be eight forwards subscribing to one idea of rugby and seven backs subscribing to another. From a personal point of view, there is a side to the Leicester mentality that demands that you prove yourself in battle and cop a few stitches at the bottom of a ruck before you are in a position to be accepted as one of them. They care nothing for reputations here and I've learned a valuable lesson.

"I think I'm as fit as I've ever been and I'm keen to take on more responsibility. The forwards are very close-knit and they still rant and rave when things go wrong out wide, but I'm confident enough to hold my nerve."

With almost a lifetime of rugby education crammed into his 24 years - "right from the year dot, my father made sure there was a ball for me to play with" - Greenwood is now preparing for the ultimate examination. "The reason I turned professional was to find out if I was good enough to play for my country and that remains my priority. If I can ask Jack Rowell some awkward questions over the next few months, all well and good."