Morris intent on making the most of the moment

Steve Bale in Durban talks to the England scrum-half who has won his place back from Kyran Bracken against most people's expectations
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The Independent Online
As his career has been a prolonged exercise in treating the twin impostors just the same, Dewi Morris is not about to lose his sense of proportion now that he has achieved a minor triumph by regaining his England place.

On the other hand, the timing of this latest comeback could not be improved, his omission from the team who easily did the Grand Slam in the Five Nations' Championship rendered irrelevant by Jack Rowell's decision to make Morris his scrum-half choice for tonight's game against Argentina at King's Park.

It has also handsomely justified the Orrell captain in his decision at the turn of the year to take extended unpaid leave from his job as a sales executive with a leisurewear firm until, aged 31, he retires from rugby when the World Cup is over. From the way he sometimes talks, it cannot come a moment too soon.

"You could no longer say there was any great enjoyment in the game; the continual pressure on players has become ridiculous," he said. "You have to accept it in international rugby but now it's there at club level as well, with having to keep Orrell in the First Division because that's the only revenue they have and every time you go out you're a marked man. You can't relax any more."

This explains not only Morris's impending retirement but also, contrarily, his wish to make one last stand even at the cost of five months' wages. "Everyone, including me, needs to have a goal in life. However arduous it may now be to play this game, we all dream about that final second when the whistle blows on the World Cup final.

"That's terrific motivation in itself but what has kept me going as much as anything is the lads I play with. I won't miss the tackling and training but I will miss the incredible camaraderie of the changing-room."

Even if Kyran Bracken does better than Morris did in the 1991 World Cup and is given a game during the pool stage, the place is now Morris's to lose. But as it is at least the fourth time that could have been said of him, he can be excused for not quite believing it.

"This is a high point for me but it's only through the lows I've had - and there have been a few of those - that I can appreciate the highs," he said. "But I'm totally philosophical about it. I don't necessarily expect to keep my place now that I've got it back, but I will put up a battle just as I've always done."

This is what Morris has been doing ever since he burst into English rugby consciousness in 1988. The summit of his achievement as a youngster in Wales had been modest: membership of the same Gwent Schools side as Mark Jones, later a Wales No 8 before turning professional with Hull.

The Welshman (with an English mother, let it be said) began his journey into Englishness when he left behind the family farm in the Brecon Beacons to attend Crewe and Alsager College in Cheshire and play his rugby for Winnington Park.

In 1988 he joined Liverpool St Helens, then of the First Division, and after no more than a half-dozen appearances for his new club he was playing for England against Australia. Had it not been for the fluke of an injury to another scrum-half, one George Doggart, it might never have happened.

Doggart had been picked to play for the North against an invitation team as part of the division's build-up to their own game against the Wallabies. When he withdrew Morris was given a chance he took so consummately that he kept his place in the North team who were to beat the Australians and then took a second chance against the tourists for England B before winning his cap.

England won that game too and Morris retained his place for the rest of a season that concluded with an English defeat at Cardiff Arms Park, where Morris gave as lusty a rendition of Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau as if he had been wearing a red rather than white shirt.

Nowadays Morris's accent is more Warrington than Wales and the topic of his Welshness has always been sufficiently delicate to be better left unmentioned. He was given an opportunity in England which he would not have been given in Wales. Simple as that.

Initially Morris experienced a degree of nastiness from his Cymric compatriots and, ever after, aspects of his game have been subject to severe criticism as well. But though his kicking and passing have never satisfied some people, no one has ever questioned the sheer drive of Morris's play and personality.

Hence his response to being dropped - as he was in 1989, 1993 and 1994. "I've always tried to use disappointment as a motivation," he said. "You never feel being dropped is justified and the hardest one of all was when I was left out after the Romania match last autumn.

"I knew then that if the team played well against Canada it would be very difficult to change it for the Five Nations and also, if that went well, for the World Cup. But I'm one of those people who train even harder when they take a knock and try to correct the things that caused me to be dropped in the first place."

Proving his detractors, not least in the media, wrong was Morris's stated motivation when he became a Lion during the 1993 series in New Zealand and two years later it was as good a reason as any for temporarily giving up his job.

This was a dramatic gamble that Morris said he would not regret even if Bracken were to displace him. "If it doesn't work out, it won't matter. The main thing was that I had to give myself the best chance - quite apart from which, I'd always fancied the idea of having some time off work."

All the same, it would have ended badly if Morris had gone through the same miserable experience as he did in 1991 when Richard Hill was England's scrum-half in all six of their World Cup matches and Morris and David Pears were the only members of the squad of 26 who did not play at all.

"The only good thing about it was the players, including Richard, coming up to me and saying it was wrong, that I should play," Morris said.

"The down part was the incredible emptiness and feeling of not really being part of it. I was on the bench for every game but I felt as if all I'd done for six weeks was hold tackle-bags."

Rowell has warned that someone may be equally unlucky this time but at least it will not be Morris. "All I would say to anyone who doesn't get a game in South Africa is that the worst thing you could do is go off and throw your teddy in the corner, to use an Orrell expression. Because that way you wouldn't do yourself - and certainly not the team - any good."

This may be easier to say than do but Dewi Morris does know what he is talking about. He has already set the perfect example.

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