Rugby union: Sims of The Shed mans England's roughhouse

Gloucester second row and cohorts will provide England with a harder edge tomorrow. By Chris Hewett
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KINGSHOLM REMAINS one of the great traditional nurseries of English rugby but the delicate wallflower and the shrinking violet are not to be found among its specialities. They tend to prefer the hardy annual down Gloucester way and tomorrow, Clive Woodward's embattled red rose party will be looking to some spikey, thorny West Country specimens to offer some resistance to the threatening silver ferns of a New Zealand A side capable of cutting through opposition defences like 15 high-powered hedgetrimmers.

In short, Woodward has gone for the blood and guts approach up front. Over half of the pack scheduled to take the field in Hamilton tomorrow are graduates of the Gloucester school of no-nonsense, clenched-fist rugby; Tony Windo and Phil Greening play in the front row, Rob Fidler and Dave Sims pair up in the engine room and Steve Ojomoh has his hand on the tiller at No 8. There may not have been much fight from their tour colleagues in Brisbane last weekend but the hardened cognoscenti of the Waikato confidently expect this bunch to go the full 12 rounds.

All five consider themselves live candidates for next week's opening Test with New Zealand in Dunedin but for Sims, regarded as the senior citizen of the quintet although Windo is seven months older, tomorrow's match has a now or never look to it. Uncapped at 28 despite almost a decade of unstinting service at the Kingsholm coal face, he has not been this close to a Test appearance since he last visited All Black country with England B six years ago. A good one against Blair Larsen and Norm Maxwell will put him firmly in the frame for the ultimate call-up.

"Frustratingly, the second row game started to move away from me around the time of that '92 tour," he said in Rotorua yesterday. "The fashion was for seriously tall locks and with the Martin Bayfields of this world measuring 6ft 9in and more, my 6ft 7in was suddenly seen as no more than average. By the time the line-out laws came full circle and allowed me to become more competitive, Martin Johnson and company had their feet well under the table.

"But I'm in with a shot now, aren't I? The whole game has changed over the last couple of years and there is much more onus on the scrummage, which suits anyone with a bit of Gloucester in him. And all this stuff about line-outs being a no contest doesn't really wash with me. We contest the bloody things down our way, I can tell you."

Those who know a thing or two about rugged, hairy-arsed Gloucester "dogs" envy Sims his pedigree. Born in the city, educated at the local Churchdown School and a forthright product of the Longlevens rugby academy, he is the grandson of Tom Price, a Cherry and White prop who won six caps for England in the 1940s. Interestingly enough, no fewer than 16 of Gloucester's 23 post-war internationals have been forwards and Price was the first of them.

"I'll be captaining Gloucester again next year and I can't tell you how proud I am to see so many of us on this trip. Phil Vickery and Scott Benton were in a pretty emotional state when they were picked for the Test side in Brisbane last weekend and we were all emotional with him. It's a terrific honour for the club; I can remember the excitement when Malcolm Preedy, Steve Mills and Phil Blakeway made up an all-Gloucester front row against the Springboks back in 1984 and although England lost pretty badly that day, you can't take the caps away from them.

"It's up to all of us to make a case, stake a claim. To do that, we'll all have to be right up there; it's been said before, but there really are no comfortable matches in New Zealand, just degrees of hardness. When I was here last I learned a huge amount about pace and support, about the dynamism of their rugby from one to 15. Nothing has changed. You either face the challenge or you disappear."