A true man for all seasons

Zurich Premiership: Diprose a veteran No 8 but still committed to the Quins cause
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The Independent Online

In the Premiership charts, Tony Diprose is an old-fashioned LP. One of the first players to sign a professional contract, he has played more than 150 games in England's élite league, a record worthy of a gold watch for extended service.

In the Premiership charts, Tony Diprose is an old-fashioned LP. One of the first players to sign a professional contract, he has played more than 150 games in England's élite league, a record worthy of a gold watch for extended service.

Player burn-out? Diprose finds it very difficult to understand what all the fuss is about. "It's probably more to do with your mind than your body," he said, "although I've been very lucky on the injury front."

A strange thing happened to Diprose at the beginning of the season. He dislocated a thumb and missed Harlequins' first game, which was a bit like a cuckoo not turning up for spring. In his career he has only missed a handful of games. "Fingers crossed. Some people pick up very bad injuries. You only have to look at what happened to Matt Hampson."

Hampson, the Leicester prop, fractured his neck during a scrummaging session while training with England Under-21s, and is receiving specialist treatment at Stoke Mandeville following an operation.

Diprose, a product of Campion comprehensive school in Essex, spent 10 seasons at Saracens, whom he joined in 1991, before following the coach Mark Evans across London to Quins. "Despite what you may think, it's a good place to be," Diprose said. "They're a good bunch of lads, there's an excellent work ethic and I'm still enjoying it."

After a shocking start which has seen them propping up the Premiership for most of the season, Quins are still engaged in a dogfight to avoid relegation and next Saturday play London Irish at The Stoop, a massive game for both clubs, and then Leeds away and finally Sale at home. "It's better than facing Leicester or Wasps, but there again everybody's going to be scrapping desperately for points," Diprose said. "At the beginning of the season we didn't get out of the starting blocks and put ourselves under a lot of pressure, but we've picked up 30 of our 36 points from the last 11 games. I think we can put some distance between ourselves and those at the bottom."

Whatever happens, Diprose will almost certainly exercise the option of another year at The Stoop, where the club are investing £7m in a new stand. There will be a shake-up in the coaching staff and Dean Richards, who has left Grenoble, could be arriving in west London. "The players haven't been told of any changes," Diprose said. "I haven't seen Dean since he was coaching Leicester. My name has been linked to the forwards coaching job and I know nothing about it."

Even if Quins went down to National League One, which now seems unlikely, Diprose would probably stay. "There would be a number of issues to address. For example, would the players become part-timers? Whoever goes down will be a big loss to the Premiership and it's going to be very, very hard, but I don't have a major problem with promotion and relegation. I can understand why clubs who invest heavily in the Premiership want guarantees that they're going to stay there. It took Bristol a long time to recover after they were relegated. Some don't recover.

"Our new stand would not be useful in National League One. But at one point I was in Division Two with Saracens, and without promotion they'd be stuck there. We all know it's one up, one down, and as long as the promoted club meets the criteria I think the system is fair."

Diprose is less comfortable with the extravagant investment made by Saracens and the Rugby Football Union in recruiting Andy Farrell from Wigan. "I'm a big fan of rugby league and Farrell is a fantastic player, but an awful lot of money is being invested in one man. For a fraction of the cost you could get a good young player from the academy. For a start, where does Farrell play? If he's in the back row he will have to learn a lot very quickly. I'd put him in the backs. Jason Robinson has more time and space at full-back or wing. Wherever Farrell plays it's going to be tough for him. It's a hard league, and it may be a cliché, but there are no easy games."

At 32, Diprose has a season or two left, and his experience as second-in-command to Andre Vos has been invaluable in rallying Quins. "I suppose I'm seen as one of the elder statesman, and if Andre isn't there I take over."

Will Greenwood, who is in a similar category, is about to return for the fag end of a slow-burning season. Greenwood, who had a shoulder operation, played his first game for three months last Tuesday, kicking two penalties in a 6-3 win for the Quins A team over Bath. Yesterday Diprose had a rare day off and was able to watch a couple of Heineken Cup quarter-finals on television.

"The intensity and standard of some matches in Europe is up there with the Six Nations. The whole game has moved on. A year ago I was sitting in the team hotel watching a video of the opposition. When it finished it flicked on to an old game and it was like watching a different sport. It brought home to me the extent of how everything's improved."

Diprose is singularly well equipped to keep pace with the modern game, particularly in attack as a skilful, agile No 8 whose handling and passing would not be out of place in basketball. His England career ended with the "Tour of Hell" in 1998, when England were blown away by the Wallabies, All Blacks and Springboks.

"I've been around for a while but I think there's some unfinished business at Quins. We've played well over the last couple of months and we can maintain that progress. The support we get is fantastic, and there'll be new faces at the club next season. I'm looking forward to it."