Rugby Union: Shaw banks on redemption

Tim Glover finds Europe has rescued a Wasp's England chances
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The Independent Online
IF SIMON SHAW had a spin doctor and Clive Woodward a crash course in man management, the two might yet be on speaking terms in the next century. As it is, they are not on each other's Christmas-card list. Not that there's any mutual dislike, it's just that they don't know each other very well.

Shaw won his first cap four seasons ago, and although the total could be counted on his fingers he is not sure how many he has got. "It's eight or nine," he said. His eighth and last came as a replacement against South Africa last year and although he would like to add to his collection, the British Lion hasn't got a clue as to his standing in the international pecking order. His confusion is understandable.

When Garath Archer, his former second-row colleague at Bristol, was omitted from England's World Cup party, Shaw was surprised to find himself rubbing shoulders with Martin Johnson, Danny Grewcock and Tim Rodber. "I was with England for a month before the squad was finalised, and although people kept telling me I was bound to get in I wasn't so sure," he said. "I have developed a pessimistic view on things, so if the worst happens I won't be too disappointed. It was always at the back of my mind that maybe it was all just an exercise to fire Archer up."

The word was that Archer, disillusioned with events at an England training camp in Leeds in August, had walked out. When Woodward announced his 30 players for the World Cup, Archer had been recalled and Shaw omitted.

"Clive broke the news by e-mail," Shaw said. "It wasn't a personal message, just a general statement. Had I been left out because he'd gone with three second-row forwards it would have been easier to handle, but to bring Archer back and drop me at the last minute made it all the more disappointing. I didn't do anything wrong. I'd played quite well for England A against the United States, and the feedback from the coaches was that they were reasonably happy."

Shaw did not attend any of England's World Cup matches and saw only the second half of their shattering quarter-final exit to South Africa in Paris.

During a career plagued by injury and misfortune, there are those who believe that the real Simon Shaw is finally standing up, and today he renews battle with Bourgoin at Loftus Road as Wasps attempt to maintain their stranglehold in Pool Three of the Heineken Cup. In a tricky group, Wasps have a 100 per cent record with victories over Llanelli, Ulster and, last weekend, Bourgoin, recording a rare victory on French soil.

"It was a superb experience," Shaw said. "It was a bit like playing Gloucester away. You have to deal with the whole environment. We never stopped trying things and we worked hard for each other. Technically it wasn't sound, but it was a great team effort. We pride ourselves on our defence and we missed 33 tackles. One of my goals is to have a tackle count comparable with the back row."

That is a tall order for a lock of Shaw's size. Against Bourgoin he put in 10 tackles but missed three; Lawrence Dallaglio and Joe Worsley both made 19 and Peter Scrivener, the third member of the back row, 12. On the other hand, Shaw carried the ball nine times to Dallaglio's three.

Missing the World Cup may have had a beneficial side-effect. "While Lawrence and Joe were away I took on a bit more responsibility. When they play a lot of ball goes to them and I was able to re-establish myself, doing more in the line-out and as a runner."

Nigel Melville, the Wasps director of rugby, says of him: "Because he's got a regular place his confidence is high. It's the best I've ever seen him. He's worked hard, he's lost weight and is making a big impression."

Shaw was England's biggest-ever schools international, at 6ft 8in and 18st 4lb, eight years ago. He has since added an extra inch and is now down to 181/2st from 20st-plus."It's probably the leanest and fittest I've ever been," he said.

His height - his father, who brought the family up first in Kenya and then Spain, was also 6ft 9in - has obvious advantages, like winning line- outs, dispensing with the need for ladders and gaining eye contact with a giraffe but there's also a downside. Beds for one thing. Shaw has only been sleeping soundly since reading about a 7ft by 6ft monster made for the West Indies fast bowler Courtney Walsh by a company in Bristol. He ordered a similar model, which is now lying in state in his flat in Chiswick. He was also refused entry to Space Mountain in Disney World, while on a holiday in Florida, for exceeding the height restriction.

It would have been unfortunate to have fallen off Space Mountain, but almost everything else has befallen him. Having a cauliflower ear drained to the size of an avocado was bad enough, but there's been a lot worse. Four years ago, at the age of 22, he made Jack Rowell's World Cup squad but ruptured knee ligaments stopped him going to South Africa.

"At the time I was doing some promotional work for Courage, who were an England sponsor, so the whole thing was a disaster. I should have been out there instead of hobbling around with my leg in plaster. Richard West went instead and won one cap, which pissed me off even more."

He sustained his worst injury playing for Bristol, a double dislocation of the left ankle which nearly finished him for good. At one point a bone started to grow at a peculiar angle, so that was removed and a six-inch steel plate inserted. He should have toured Australia with England, but a recurrence of a back prob-lem kept him on the sidelines.

On the Lions tour of South Africa he was kept out of the Test team, not by injury, but by Jeremy Davidson. "The edge he had over me is that he was so easy to lift in the line-out.

"I was pleased with the way I was playing, but when I returned home I was unable to train for two months and lost my place in the England squad. The injuries have all come at the wrong time. Whenever I got back into the England reckoning something happened."

The impression in some quarters is that it was not just his bad back, broken knee and dodgy ankle that were proving Shaw's Achilles' heel. Between the cauliflower ears was the mind of a gentle giant rather than a Martin Johnson. "I'm quiet and laid-back," Shaw admitted. "Others tend to be more assured. I've never felt the need to... You see some guys who are always talking, always in the forefront. If you are playing well, that should be enough. Perhaps, looking back, I should have sold myself more. I'm very positive about my own ability but I don't want to..."

Shaw, who has a tendency not to finish sentences, would not make a great dramatist, but he might make a great second- row forward. Having missed two World Cups, at 26 he still has time to catch the next one.

If he can make himself heard. On Wednesday Woodward announced that the 30 England players who finished the World Cup will regather in Bagshot tomorrow to discuss the Six Nations' championship. It was news to Shaw.

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