Rugby Union: Corry's land of opportunity

Chris Hewett meets a reluctant beneficiary of the Dallaglio affair
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IT WOULD be over-egging things just a little to suggest that Martin Corry has gone from zero to hero in the space of a calendar year; after all, he has barely performed a meaningful deed in an England Test jersey, let alone a heroic one. But considering his position in the Red Rose pecking order this time last summer - he was so far down the ladder that he was in danger of being selected for the Earth's Core XV - his new status as one of Clive Woodward's World Cup certainties represents a dramatic reversal in fortune.

Of course, the 25-year-old Leicester No 8 would not be looking down from his lofty perch were it not for the Dallaglio Imbroglio, as the increasingly bizarre scandal surrounding the former national captain is now half-jokingly referred to in the England camp.

Yet, while Corry acknowledges the cruel principle that one man's nightmare is another's blessing, he would far rather go toe-to-toe with his back- row rival on what he describes as a "level playing field".

"Ideally Lawrence would be here in Australia with the rest of the squad and I would be doing everything in my power to win a Test place on merit with everyone available," he said as England completed their two-and- a-half week World Cup conditioning camp amid the rain-forest humidity of South Stradbroke Island. "No one can take any positives from Lawrence's situation; not the squad as a whole, not me as an individual and certainly not Lawrence himself. But there is a Test against the Wallabies to think about and it's up to those of us who are here to rise to the challenge."

Corry is getting used to challenges. Last summer he came off the back of a frustrating season of under-achievement at Welford Road to find himself surplus to England's requirements for the four-Test, three-country tour of the Southern Hemisphere. Failure to make the cut would have been disappointing in any circumstances, but the absence of Dallaglio, Richard Hill and Neil Back made it all the more pointed. Suddenly, the 6ft 5in Midlander was languishing behind Tony Diprose, Steve Ojomoh and Ben Clarke as well. There was only one way forward, and that was to go back to the drawing board.

The first port of call was Dean Richards, the Leicester team manager and a half-decent No 8 in his day. "He was the obvious guy to turn to. I told Dean what I felt I needed from the club and he told me exactly what I had to do to recover some momentum. He was brilliant, actually, as was John Wells, the coach. I picked their brains throughout the close season and worked harder than at any point in my career. And you know what they say: the harder you work, the luckier you get."

There was no luck attached to his explosive march up the England rankings before Christmas. His early-season form at Welford Road was such that Woodward, blissfully ignorant of Corry's existence just five months earlier, asked him to fill in for the injured Dallaglio in both of England's World Cup qualifiers in November. In the first, against Holland at Huddersfield, Corry scored a try - not exactly an Olympian achievement, given the standard of the opposition, but a nice little morale-booster all the same - and if he did not set the Thames on fire in the subsequent struggle with Italy, he was by no means the worst English performer that day.

Martin Johnson, who captained England in both matches and will do so again against the Wallabies in Sydney next week, takes the view that his clubmate's moment has arrived. "He was the player of the season at Leicester, no question," he said. "Martin has found a yard of pace - he takes the ball up much quicker than when he first joined us - and he's really on his game at the base of the scrum. When you also take into account the quality of his line-out work and the strength of his tackling, you're looking at a No 8 of very high class indeed."

England need every last ounce of that class. The loss of Dallaglio is a bitter blow to a side who still lose thrust and direction too easily and Woodward is hoping that Corry, who repeatedly stood up to be counted during the least forgiving moments of Leicester's Premiership campaign, will prove equally influential in dragging his countrymen through the hard yards of the international arena.

There has been a constant refrain from the coach over the last week along the lines of: "Don't make the mistake of thinking Martin is keeping Lawrence's place warm." If Corry plays well enough to give Woodward a genuine choice at No 8, perhaps England will take something positive from all the negatives of the last few depressing weeks.