Morris dances to new tune

A former England stalwart has returned to his roots. Stephen Brenkley spoke to him
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The Independent Online
FROM Cape Town in June to Winnington Park in January is quite a journey. It is the difference, among other things, between the World Cup semi-final and the fifth round of the Pilkington Cup. For Dewi Morris it is the road home, from the mountain top of an international player to the foothills as a coach's assistant at the club where it all started for him in England.

"I probably won't be physically sick as I was before almost every match I played in so that I couldn't see for tears," he said, thus pointing out another difference, as well as explaining that when he was spotted crying in the team line-up before the start of England matches it was not necessarily at the strains of the national anthem. "But deep down I shall be as nervous as I ever was. This is the biggest game the club's ever had and the same goes for at least some of the players."

Next Saturday, Winnington Park, from Northwich in Cheshire and Division Five (North) of the Courage League, will entertain Wasps in the last 16 of the national knock-out competition. The animated fellow running up and down the touchline cajoling, urging and generally trying to disturb Wasps will be Morris.

He was England's scrum half in that ill-starred semi-final against New Zealand, and he won his 26th and last cap in the third-place play-off a few days later. Now he has come home. For much of this season - when he has not been readjusting to the normal life that being an England international and full-time brewery executive tended to disallow - he has helped to bring a fresh dimension.

"I've just tried to pass on some of the things I've learned with England and Orrell about organisation and playing as a unit," he said, while disclaiming much of the responsibility for their progress. "We're playing patterns now, recognising our strengths."

Morris played for Winnington Park for four seasons after arriving in Cheshire as a student from Wales in the early Eighties. He was part of the team which won the Girobank League, the RFU's first regional experimental league. He has always lived nearby, never lost touch, always intended to return.

"All I'm doing now is helping Dougie Hill with a few things," he said. "He's the coach like he always has been and that's certainly not going to change. I want to show the lads what can be done and what they can do. Everybody has a chance to do what I did if they're prepared to put in the work, find that extra grit."

Morris has clearly never forgotten the debt he owes to Hill, a former union and rugby league player and inveterate enthusiast. He mentioned him as a prime inspiration in the programme for his first international against Australia, in 1988. Whether the pair can mastermind victory next Saturday must be open to doubt, though.

More than 3,000 spectators will crowd round the pitch in a temporary stand betwixt twee modern housing estate and less twee chemical works. The match has taken the place by storm according to club committee man Bob Dean, but it is unlikely to be enough to spur them to victory. Morris assessed the chances as being around five per cent, and given that the history of the Pilkington Cup is all but bereft of fallen giants he might have been a shade optimistic. Essential requirements are probably a greasy pitch, a sustained adrenalin surge and rigid discipline.

"What we can't do is let them get a good start," Morris said. "If we allow that then we've had it. But we've got a lot of pride and a lot of good players as well. It's just the fitness that might tell but I've told the lads to get on the road."

The road is not a place where Morris has spent much of his free time lately, at least not for the purposes of running. He is happy to have a break from the once interminable training and to develop his business career in the drinks industry. At present this is centred round exporting vast quantities of Death Watch vodka to Russia.

This successful venture has left him with no time to reflect on his playing career or on whether he retired too early at 31. He has not entirely ruled out some sort of comeback - "exhibition matches maybe" - but has turned down a couple of approaches about full-time coaching positions.

"I can't live and breathe rugby as you'd have to in that sort of job, though I suppose if the money was huge... I like what I'm doing now. But when Wasps are here I'll be letting them know I'm still around."