Rugby Union / Five Nations Countdown: Moon and Redman at home in the enemy camp: An English oak with roots set in Cardiff: Question of birthplace buried in the past as cross-border infiltrators meet in crucial Twickenham confrontation

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The Independent Online
NIGEL REDMAN is 29, which makes him a babe in arms compared with recent England locks. Wade Dooley was still playing at 35 and Paul Ackford at 33, yet Redman was capped before either - when, in rugby terms, he was scarcely out of the womb.

That was in 1984 when he was just 20 and was immediately confronted by Steve Cutler of Australia, one of the leading tight forwards of recent times. Outreached, outjumped and out of his depth, Redman was promptly dropped and only now, recalled for the ninth time in a decade, is he indisputably the first choice.

Not only that but he was identified by Dick Best, the England coach, as a - maybe the - vital reason for the improvement against the French which has brought Redman and his compatriots to this afternoon's Twickenham rendezvous with the Welsh with a decent chance of the championship. This is his 16th cap.

A better line-out and more physical forward play, Best said, were what the Bath electrician had provided in Paris that had been absent at Twickenham a fortnight earlier. Perhaps, even, the difference between victory and defeat. Redman is used to being extolled for the rugged quality of his close-quarters play, tackling and mobility but seldom for his line-out, an area which remains the bane of Bath.

The problem is simple and insoluble. Redman is not even the 6ft 4in with which match programmes flatter him, indeed freely admits to being nearer 6-3. Cutler was 6ft 7in and Martin Bayfield, whom he has ousted from the England team, is 6-10. 'Not everyone jumps his height,' Redman said gratefully.

It is worth relating now that even 10 years ago Redman was confessing that he was not quite tall enough for international rugby. Good for him if he strikes a blow against gargantuanism, but the point for Redman is that when he plays - however intermittently - for England he has to get it absolutely right. Especially if they make him the middle-jumper, as he was against Cutler and is again now.

Even against Wales, who are not known for behemoth stature, he will be giving away three inches to Gareth Llewellyn. Time for study, then. 'When I play internationals or big league games I do try to think very carefully about who I'm against and how I should go about playing him, but I don't allow size on the field to worry me that much,' Redman said.

''I try to compensate by competing really hard, but at my height you do need a thrower-in at the line-out who can get the ball exactly where you want it and at the pace you want. Getting back in the England team and staying there is against the odds because of my height; technically I should be a front-jumper and I'm in a position which shouldn't suit my size. Who knows, one day I might get found out.'

This is honest self-appraisal from one of the most honest, stout-hearted performers English rugby has ever seen. An English oak, you might say, except that in reality he is Welsh. Not as overtly as if he were called Dewi Morris but unmistakably: born in Cardiff and a pupil at Pen-yr-Heol Junior School, Rumney, before the family decamped for work purposes first to Macclesfield and then to Weston-super-Mare.

Redman claims that he and wife Lori called their son Rhys because it sounded nice - and anyway Lori is a Londoner - but they are not really kidding anyone. On the other hand, Welsh rugby hardly crossed his mind and the only time he laid hands on a rugby ball until he arrived in Weston was when the soccer ball ended in the rose bushes during street kickabouts.

No, young Nigel was a Cardiff City fan and an habitue of the Grange End at Ninian Park. He still looks out for City's results and would regard himself as a supporter of the national team (Welsh, that is).

But there has never been any conflicting loyalty in his successfully adopted sport. Redman was 15 when the family moved from Macclesfield and even in Weston his school did not play rugby. It was only when a fellow pupil, the daughter of the coach of Weston Rugby Club, suggested he give it a try that he took to the oval ball.

England Colts having followed, Redman moved onwards and upwards in 1983 and made such progress that his first, fateful appearance for England came after just 17 games for Bath. Indeed the tiro made such an impression that he kept Ronnie Hakin, an Irish international, out of Bath's first two cup finals (1984 and '85).

Since then Redman has been at the core of Bath's success, as near indispensable for the club as he was clearly dispensable for England. The only big time Bath did without him was in the 1989 cup final against Leicester in April after he had played on from November with a groin strain for fear of losing his place.

Imprudent this may have been, but it was typical. You have only to look at Redman's attenuated England career to see the power of persistence. 'This is practically the first time I've looked at the team and realised I've held my place.'

Even now, Redman recognises he would not have faced New Zealand in November if Bayfield had been fit and that, even if he had not then had to have an operation on a calcified elbow, Bayfield as previous incumbent would have been back against Scotland. Same old story, really.

'It's been a long time with a lot of disappointments, but I've never, ever felt in despair about it and at 29 I still have years ahead. I play rugby as a sport for enjoyment and also to do my best, and if, by doing my best, it means playing for the national side that's absolutely marvellous.'

This is an attitude Redman would have needed to develop if he had not already possessed it. Beneath the balding pate, behind the dead-calm exterior, is one of the most decent fellows who ever donned an England jersey. 'I've had a lot of knock- backs but I've always taken them very, very well. To come out of it 10 years on and finally get picked on merit makes up for everything.'

You could say no one merited it more.

(Photograph omitted)