Another big day, another big letdown for big Danny

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The Independent Online

There would have been two sweepstakes doing the rounds of the car parks before kick-off yesterday: the timing of Danny Grewcock's first yellow card, and which of the serially unfortunate full-backs would be injured first.

There would have been two sweepstakes doing the rounds of the car parks before kick-off yesterday: the timing of Danny Grewcock's first yellow card, and which of the serially unfortunate full-backs would be injured first. The latter issue was quickly settled, with poor Iain Balshaw lasting all of three minutes. Grewcock, Bath's captain for the day and resident bad boy, was card-free and mostly kept his unreliable fists to himself, but an ideal chance for him to step out of Martin Johnson's shadows as an English leader of men once more went begging.

In the absence of the technical guru of their pack, Steve Borthwick, with an injured shoulder, and the club skipper, Jon Humphreys, Bath attempted an unusual tactic: line-out by remote control. Borthwick shouldered the crock's water-carrier duties undertaken here a year ago by Jonny Wilkinson for Newcastle, and ferried instructions as well as drinks. Grewcock listened through the earholes in his scrum-cap, nodded and, for most of the first half, was quite unable to turn the theory into practice.

Faced with two English tiros in Leeds's Stuart Hooper and Tom Palmer, Grewcock tried every which way - as receiver himself or supporting Rob Fidler or James Scaysbrook - but all was scrappy and unconvincing, and the effect spread throughout the Bath side.

At the age of 32, with more than half a century of England caps, and a bespoke 18 1/2st frame for a modern middle-jumper, Grewcock should be capable of leading the line alone. Like Johnson, with whom he played three Lions Tests in 2001, he has had his disciplinary run-ins - sent off in New Zealand in 1998, not even getting there in 2003 after punching Lawrence Dallaglio in a European final, then banned again for stamping on the All Black Dan Carter in 2004.

Grewcock's World Cup in 2003 started late with a broken toe and ended early with a broken wrist. Born into the same East Midlands birth-line as Johnson, he has always suffered by comparison, in the same way American presidents suffered simply by not being John F Kennedy.

But New Zealand, where driving mauls in the Super 12 can be counted on the fingers of one taped-up hand, beckons again. And Grewcock was a nailed-on choice for the latest Lions squad alongside Ben Kay (Borthwick's analytical counterpart with England), and three Irishmen, Paul O'Connell, Malcolm O'Kelly and Donncha O'Callaghan. Surely Grewcock sensed that, starting here, the next few weeks could finally see him elbow Johnson off his pedestal.

In the second half, Bath struck a purple patch of clean line-out takes and forced a penalty out of the Leeds front- row for standing up in a scrum. The match was there for the taking; the cup there for Grewcock's lifting. Somehow it did not happen. Grewcock's powerful short-range charges made dents, but Bath's backs were fatally uncertain how to do the rest. Where a Johnson might have gathered his men, refocused and found the gap, Grewcock, never the most demonstrative of souls, came up short.

At the end Grewcock shook the hand of Palmer; in fact he shook it twice in a daze of disappointment. He checked on Balshaw's health. And he looked on as Leeds took the trophy. Grewcock is a rare talent, but he has a weight of such history building up against him like water at a dam.

If the Lions are to win it is unlikely to be because the backs score more tries than Joe Rokocoko. It will be down to men like Grewcock wrestling an advantage. But, most of all, getting it right on the big day.

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