Rugby Union: The good heart of a hell-raiser

David Llewellyn talks to Garath Archer, a lock with a fearsome aim to hit all his targets
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IF EVER there was a carnivore on a rugby field it is Garath Archer. The 6ft 6in, 19st Newcastle lock is establishing himself at the heart of England's efforts, providing a tungsten-hard core to the line-out and no little mobility in broken play.

He even has a nickname, Boulder, to suggest his approach to the game and to life, yet this giant Geordie insisted: "I would be a vegetarian if I didn't think I needed to eat meat to stay fit for rugby." He is adamant that as he has aged so his outlook on rugby and life has changed as well.

Can this really be the hell- raiser of a few short years ago - collecting so many yellow cards they could have filled an album - who now says: "I used to do a lot of fishing, off the pier at Sunderland and some beach casting, but I haven't done it for a year because I started feeling really guilty about killing fish. I'm very much an animal lover."

Archer was sent off at the age 15 and for a second time while still in his teens, when playing first time around for Newcastle-Gosforth. Does this sound like the same man? "I like riding around the back roads of Northumberland on my Suzuki Bandit, a 600cc machine. It doesn't have a race fairing; it's a naked frame really, a flies-in-your-teeth machine. But I realise biking is not the most sensible thing for a professional sportsman to do, so when I take the bike out it is very much with damage limitation in mind."

Archer is barely 23 yet already he has established a formidable reputation. It is not just his escapades on the pitch which contribute to that. His application to join the police force was reportedly rejected by the constabulary when he was caught with his pants down so to speak, having a pee on the steps of a local police station a few years ago.

And what about when he was in the Army? After an under-21 match a colleague challenged him to a swim across the Thames. Archer had almost reached the other side when he realised his mate was in trouble and swam back to rescue the floundering squaddie.

Therein lies a clue to this big-hearted, brazenly brave young man who wins his ninth England cap at Murrayfield this afternoon. On his own admission Archer has never stepped away from a challenge in his life.

Even at school, or rather the various schools he attended, trouble sat on his shoulders. "I used to get into a few tussles in the schoolyard," admitted Archer, whose father, Stuart, played for Gosforth and scored a try in the 1977 John Player Cup final against Waterloo.

"I've been 6ft 6in since I was 13 so I was easy to spot and I was always in the thick of the action. But then again I've always been an abrasive character, always been the one to get into mischief. But," he pleaded touchingly, "I've never been a bad lad, I just found it hard to back down from anything."

Thankfully, from England and Newcastle's point of view, Archer has grown up fast. He is genuinely talented, with great hands, galvanic mobility and unquestionable presence at the line-out. He is also a fast learner, as his progress in life and his chosen sport reveals.

So good was he that he appeared for England 16 and 18 groups a year early each time, and he went on to represent his country at Colts, Under-21 and Emerging England levels just to underline his talent.

Having left Durham School just before his A levels he served his time and qualified as a carpenter-joiner, working on building sites. Bored with that he signed up for the Army and became a radio telegraphist, all the while working hard at his rugby. Then came professionalism in the only sport he felt he wanted to excel at.

A move to Bristol, during which time he added to his reputation, saw the Army release him. Then he went back to his beloved North-east where under the captain Dean Ryan, who will pack down behind Archer today, he developed into a force that could carry England to the World Cup and beyond. "I'd love to get on a British Lions tour and most of all I would love to win a World Cup with England," he said.

He has a desire to establish himself not only in rugby, but also in life, to strive for "the status of Martin Johnson and be recognised as an international player world-wide".

"Really I'm trying to find my own niche," he explained. "I can't go back into the Army, I'll be too old. I'd like to be able to engineer a way of not going back to the daily toil of working for someone else. So I'm doing a few bits and pieces at college."

Those bits and pieces turn out to be a sports massage course. "It's something I believe will get bigger and bigger. It's not quite physiotherapy, but it's a start."

It doesn't quite seem to fit Archer's hard-headed image, but this is no everyday tale of everyman, so mauling meat-eater to vegetarian masseur has a certain ring to it. And anyway, just who is going to argue with the man?

Scotland v ENGLAND

at Murrayfield

D Lee London Scottish 15 M Perry Bath

T Stanger Hawick 14 A Healey Leicester

G Townsend Northampton 13 W Greenwood Leicester

A Tait Newcastle 12 J Guscott Bath

S Longstaff Dundee HSFP 11 A Adebayo Bath

C Chalmers Melrose 10 P Grayson Northampton

G Armstrong Newcastle, capt 9 M Dawson Northampton

D Hilton Bath 1 J Leonard Harlequins

G Bulloch West of Scotland 2 R Cockerill Leicester

P Burnell London Scottish 3 D Garforth Leicester

D Cronin Wasps 4 M Johnson Leicester

D Weir Newcastle 5 G Archer Newcastle

R Wainwright Dundee HSFP 6 L Dallaglio Wasps, capt

A Roxburgh Kelso 7 N Back Leicester

E Peters Bath 8 D Ryan Newcastle Replacements: 16 H Gilmour (Heriot's FP), 17 C Murray (Hawick), 18 A Nicol (Bath), 19 A Pountney (Northampton), 20 S Grimes (Watsonians), 21 P Wright (West of Scotland), 22 G Ellis (Currie). Replacements: 16 P de Glanville (Bath), 17 J Wilkinson (Newcastle), 18 S Benton (Gloucester), 19 A Diprose (Saracens), 20 D Grewcock (Saracens), 21 G Rowntree (Leicester), 22 D West (Leicester). Referee: C Thomas (Wales) Kick-off: 3.00 (BBC1)