Profile: Gifts of a percentage man: Rob Andrew

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The Independent Online
ALL the indications are that Geoff Cooke has taken his cue from John Major in picking the England rugby team to play the All Blacks at Twickenham on Saturday. It's back to basics, and the most obvious evidence is that Rob Andrew (appropriately enough a keen Conservative supporter) has regained his place at fly-half from Stuart Barnes.

It means that when England win possession (a tall order in itself), the ball will be hoisted towards the corners with the aim of pushing the All Blacks back on their heels, and England's exciting backs will be launched at the line only sparingly. Percentage rugby will rule, and nobody is better at calculating the returns from this style of rugby than Andrew.

'It's almost a World Cup final in many senses for a lot of us because of the strength of the current All Black side,' Andrew says. 'I've been very impressed by them. They have probably edged ahead of Australia in the world rankings.'

Cooke has turned to Andrew, now 30, because he regards him as the man likeliest to take on the All Blacks at their own game. Ian McGeechan, who has coached Andrew on two British Lions tours and is a big fan, agrees: 'He more than anyone knows what is needed to beat New Zealand.'

Andrew went to New Zealand with the Lions last summer as England's number two fly-half, having been displaced by Barnes halfway through the Five Nations' Championship. But once Barnes was ruled out of the first Test by injury, Andrew was back in the driving seat and stayed there for the series, in partnership with Dewi Morris. Of the second Test, when the Lions levelled the series, McGeechan says: 'I've never seen the two half-backs play as well.' That they could not sustain it in the final Test will have made Andrew even more determined to put things right on Saturday.

Determination plays a big part in his make-up. He is a naturally gifted ball player, with a cricketer's hands. Indeed he played cricket for Yorkshire 2nd XI and Cambridge University, whom he captained in 1985, scoring a first-class century against Notts at Trent Bridge in 1984. 'He's one of those indecently talented guys who can pick up a golf club, ask which end you hold it, and then whack the ball 300 yards down the middle of the fairway,' says BBC Radio's rugby correspondent Ian Robertson. He coached Andrew at Cambridge, where he won Blues in 1982, '83 and '84, and remembers 'a baby-faced freshman' who suddenly gave glimpses of an exceptional talent.

But allied to this natural ability is a tremendous will to improve and a dedication to work at his game until he has done so. Andrew's features are still boyish but his firm chin denotes a hard man beneath. 'He works extra hard with a real Spartan zeal,' says Mark Bailey, who played with him at Cambridge and Wasps.

Bailey, now a Cambridge don, is unstinting in his praise. 'As a bloke, he's an exemplar. He's decent, strong on family values and family life, and intensely loyal. But he's not easily pushed around. He knows his own mind. He's one of the most impressive men of his generation.'

Many of these qualities spring from Andrew's solid roots in North Yorkshire, where his father and two brothers farm. He went to Barnard Castle school, which also educated the Underwood brothers, and studied land economy at Cambridge. He is now an associate director with DTZ Debenham Thorpe, the country's largest firm of surveyors, where he advises investors on buying investment property in Britain.

His wife Sara is a part-time pharmacist; they have a three- year-old daughter. He acknowledges Sara as a strongly beneficial factor in his life. 'We met in 1985. She has known everything from the word go, the pressures and the difficult times when the press has been on my back to get Barnes in the team.'

It was in 1985 that Andrew made a spectacular England debut, against Romania. After that, his form was patchy and his career only really took off when he was summoned to join the 1989 Lions tour of Australia, as a replacement for Paul Dean. 'I was disappointed not to be picked originally. I felt I was beginning to get hold of things in late 1988 and early '89. Once I was in Australia, Ian McGeechan was a very good coach and easy to work with. When you have somebody of that quality, it's an enormous confidence booster.' Andrew went from first reserve to first-choice fly-half for the last two Tests, which the Lions won to take the series.

He returned home a new man, to play an integral part in England winning two Grand Slams and reaching the World Cup final in 1991. His line and tactical kicking is now exemplary, he is generally rated the best tackling fly-half in international rugby and, although not blessed with Barnes's ability to make a sudden blistering break, he is unrivalled at supporting his backs in broken play.

His tally of just one international try, against Fiji, tells something about his style of play. There have been vocal elements in both the English press and the public who have carped about it. It may be that he is more appreciated abroad. Still, with 52 appearances, he is now the most capped international fly-half and could add a lot more before he contemplates retirement.

He is a great believer in setting himself objectives. 'I've got half a mind on the next World Cup, in 1995,' he says. 'I have to have a goal. I can't just go from week to week. There are several reasons I want to go for it. The biggest is that I know I'm still good enough and I want to go on doing it. Once you stop, you can't come back. And there's a large feeling of disappointment about the last World Cup. After all the preparation, to have got so close . . .'

He has strong views on players being allowed to make more money from off-the-pitch activities. 'That doesn't mean being paid to play. Things have changed significantly over the past three or four years and rugby players should be allowed to take advantage of whatever opportunities there are off the field. The game is taking an awful lot of money from a lot of sources and that money is being paid because players are being asked to play more internationals and being put in the shop window. It's only fair that they should be well catered for.'

Oddly enough for a northerner, and a tough one, Andrew has never been approached by rugby league. 'Somebody could at least have given me a call,' he says with a laugh. But league would never have suited him. For all his professional approach, he remains an amateur at heart. 'I genuinely enjoy playing rugby. I don't just play it because I'm playing for England, as perhaps some do. If I wasn't picked for the New Zealand game I would still play and enjoy it.'

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