Rugby Union: A prop for the hard places

'He's got everything. He's strong, he puts the tackles in, he's got a good attitude and he's very hard-nosed'; A year of rehabilitation is paying off for Will Green.
WILL GREEN is the thinking man's prop-forward. "When I look at my girlfriend and my friends getting on that Tube every day to go into work, I think I'm the luckiest man alive," he said.

This is an odd observation, coming as it does from a player who spends most weekends with his head in a vice.

Travelling on the London Underground is positively spacious compared to the claustrophobic underworld inhabited by Green. His girlfriend, Charlotte, is the bookings editor for Vogue magazine. We are talking here about beauty and the beast.

As tight-head props go, Green is relatively small at 5ft 11in and 171/2 stone. "Size is not the be all and end all," he said. "Look at the Lions' props last year. They were considered small, but they certainly managed to look after themselves. It's strength and technique that matters, not how many lumps of lead you lift."

The word from those at the coal-face this season is that Green is working like an excavator on speed. He was mentioned in despatches when his club, Wasps, beat Gloucester at Kingsholm, and again last weekend in their impressive victory over Saracens. Against Phil Vickery, Gloucester's England prop, and Roberto Grau, Saracens' Argentine hard nut, Green came up smelling of roses.

Clive Woodward, the England coach, knows Green is playing well because at the national squad training at Roehampton he said so. Woodward also said he will pick his best team for the World Cup qualifiers against the Netherlands and Italy later this month, even though the Extra B XV would probably suffice.

The question is, does he pick Vickery, or Darren Garforth (also in prime form) or will Green get the chance he's been busting a gut for?

Twelve months ago, Green, then 24, a tender age for the front-row union, was on a similar high and Woodward awarded him his first cap against Australia at Twickenham. It was a shambles. Green was up against the enormous New South Wales loose-head Richard Harry and it was not a pretty sight.

"I was gutted," Green said. "Everything went wrong on the day. It happened and there is nothing I can do about it. There were no excuses. You learn from it."

There was some conjecture that, like Graham Rowntree in Leicester's recent encounter with Saracens, Green had gone into the international carrying an injury. It might have served as an excuse. A back injury subsequently put him out of the game for six weeks. "I was hurt during the game, not before it," Green said. "It probably happened at a scrum." Not a word was exchanged between Green and Harry after the game.

"My first match back was against Garry Pagel at Northampton and it went pretty well. I was starting afresh." Green is not comfortable talking about the Dirty Harry experience, but the simple fact is that he would like nothing better than to get a second chance of measuring up against Australia's magnum force. This is unfinished business.

To that end, Green, who went on England's ill-fated summer tour to the Southern Hemisphere, has become a driven man. Perversely, he says he enjoyed England's whitewash by Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, but then that's the power of positive thinking. Nobody, but nobody, has worked harder on both the physical and mental side of the game.

"First and foremost, my game is about scrummaging, but the modern approach requires you to do almost everything. This sport is no different to any other workplace. It requires hard work and concentration throughout the week. Nothing in life is free. My whole outlook sounds like a cliche, but the fact remains we have to get it right on the training field so that we approach a game full of running. Putting it into practice is absolutely crucial."

Today Green is expected to renew hostilities against the England stalwart Jason Leonard when Wasps play Harlequins at Loftus Road. Irresistible forces and immovable objects.

"Everyone performed against Saracens, but we've got to do it week after week," Green said. "We have to be consistent. We are plugging away quietly and we have a confident pack that works well together.

"Personally, I have to get to the level where the selectors can't ignore me. You learn as you go along. I still ask for advice, but you have to work it out for yourself on the pitch. I'm not trying to be anyone else. I'm Will Green and I have my own technique."

Wasps are chuffed at his progress. "He's improving every week," Nigel Melville, the Wasps director of rugby, said. "He's got everything. He's strong, he puts the tackles in, he's got a good attitude and he's very hard-nosed. He's not only technically sound, but he's a bright guy and a bit of a footballer."

The old school - cauliflower ears, broccoli heads and a radish for a nose - would regard the description "a bit of a footballer" as an insult. However, Green, the son of a Sussex farmer, is different.

He began his rugby life in Eastbourne, more renowned for blue rinses, deckchairs and afternoon teas than as a breeding ground for international prop-forwards, as a stand-off, albeit one of limited duration.

"I was 12 years of age and the weight limit at that level was 11 stone. I was an 111/2 stone fat bastard. I only played about five games a season. My school had to ring up the opposition and ask 'Do you mind if Green plays?' It was very frustrating."

When he was 17, he was in the star-studded England schools side in 1991 that featured, amongst others, Darren Crompton, Tony Diprose, Simon Shaw, Richard Hill, Will Greenwood, Tim Stimpson, Matt Dawson, Daren O'Leary and Barrie-Jon Mather.

Last season Green admitted that he found professional rugby, more specifically killing time between games, a crushing bore. He tried his hand at tele- sales for a marketing company, rang 200 firms and got one feedback. It was from the radio station Heart FM, which happens to be owned by Chris Wright, the man who owns Wasps. Green's employment lasted three days.

This season Green has invested pounds 1,500 on a personal computer. "I fiddle about with it. I'm on the net and I get some interesting e-mails, but basically I'm computer illiterate. I haven't got a clue, but it uses up the hours."