French test is music to Worsley's ears

Wasps No 6 is relishing today's trip to the Toulouse lair. He tells Hugh Godwin that one day he may be playing abroad for good

The news that Sale's loosehead prop and some-time balladeer, Andrew Sheridan, has recorded an album of self-penned songs went down well with Joe Worsley. "Music stimulates you, it keeps you going," said the Wasps flanker, who happens to be a classically trained piano player. "You get a lot of musical sportsmen because you can't do physically demanding stuff around your sport when you've got to rest." How about a double act with fellow England squad member Sheridan? "Sherry and Joe? Yeah, I could see that. We could make it that you've got to weigh over 110kg to get in the band."

It was a tongue-in-cheek suggestion, although you cannot be certain these days, with rugby players stepping on to the celebrity dance floor (Gavin Henson) or belting out jazz on TV talent shows (Matt Stevens). Worsley's woe is that his beloved piano has been in storage all year while builders are in at his new home. The 6ft 5in back-rower has been obliged to visit the school where his wife teaches to tinkle the ivories in his spare time. "I'd given it up for a few years when I started professional sport, then when I got back interested, it was bluesy stuff – just mucking around with chords, ad-libbing, come up with a melody, build a song."

Most pundits predict the music will stop for Worsley and Wasps when they head this afternoon into the intimidating lair of Toulouse, the champions of Europe. Down in the south of France, the supporters dance to brass bands, and it is not God Save The Queen they are singing. Wasps' Premiership form is nothing to send a postcard home about, and when you throw in the refereeing directives which are a perfect fit for Toulouse's fast-paced, handling game – and a salary budget two or three times that of Wasps – the odds on an away win are as long as Richard Clayderman having the Christmas No 1. Worsley, a one-club man since he joined Wasps aged 16, will try to upset those odds.

"Guy Novès [the long-serving Toulouse head coach] has had a philosophy there as long as I can remember of a style which I enjoy playing against," he said. "Toulouse have always been an affluent club, not short of money when it comes to buying players and training facilities. Financially the two clubs have been on different planes. I heard they have 26 internationals in their Heineken Cup squad. It's phenomenal and we can't compete financially. But on the flipside some of the people involved with Wasps would take less money to be here, because we get treated well and in the past we developed into a team that wins trophies. We're hoping to get back to that."

Famously in 2004, Worsley's tackling pummelled Toulouse's forwards and fly-half into the Twickenham turf when Wasps won the Heineken Cup. He is relishing doing battle again, in a competition Wasps also won in 2007. Since then, a first-choice XV's worth of stars have retired – Lawrence Dallaglio, Raphaël Ibanez et al – or departed to other clubs. Has the underdog lost a bit of its bite? "A lot of people have left. Some went for pastures new or had to retire, it wasn't about money or arguments. It still hasn't settled down again but hopefully it will soon. Of that 2004 team, 12 of us knew each other inside and out. We need a number of people who want to be here for five or six years solid. That's when you're going to have success. It takes time to build. You see it with football clubs, they lose their identity with players moving. Look at Liverpool.

"Wasps are different to Toulouse. We defeated them in 2004 and it was our fitness, our power, our organisation that prevailed, along with some good finishing and Rob Howley chasing down a ball [to steal a try from Clément Poitrenaud] which most people wouldn't. Our defence was the best thing about us. You can play amazing rugby but if your defence isn't up to it, you won't win. That's not to say Toulouse's defence isn't pretty good, even more so since they brought in [France flanker] Thierry Dusautoir, who I've got enormous respect for. If Toulouse start offloading the ball, you're chasing shadows. But the pool stage is its own little tournament, then you start again in the knock-outs. Getting through the pool is sometimes as hard as the rest of it."

The point there is that second place could be good enough, and with the Newport Gwent Dragons and Glasgow to come before the return match with Toulouse, the Wasps draw could have been tougher. The added frisson is that Worsley, with 78 Tests in 11 years behind him, including the 2003 World Cup, is in the England squad who kick off the autumn internationals against the All Blacks in four weeks' time. According to Worsley, the high-profile European matches double as national trials at a time when an eye injury to Bath's Lewis Moody has raised doubts over the most recent captain.

"It's really down to form these days," Worsley said. "It's not like before '03 when Clive [Woodward] had the habit of sticking with the same people – and fair play to him, it worked. The league's so intense these days, you get knocks, your form fluctuates, it's difficult for people to gear up their season just for England any more. Injuries are the biggest reason for that, especially for the back row. When you get an injury-free period, that's when you're flying, but those periods are few and far between, especially when you get older.

"You have a period of no injuries, you hit form and get your shot to play for England and run that as far as you can until... 'boom'... you've gone again, in my case after 40 seconds against New Zealand last autumn. If Lewis is out, it's tough to say who will be picked in the back row. Steffon Armitage is injured. European form especially will go a long way to get you picked for autumn internationals. You've got Tom Rees, Hendre Fourie, or I could play No 7." The music man says this last bit sotto voce; Worsley is more used to playing blind. Though he continued: "The classic openside role is a little bastardised these days."

New Zealand and Australia will bring two of the best practitioners – Richie McCaw and David Pocock – to Twickenham next month. Worsley watched them closely during the Tri Nations. "The way the breakdown's being judged, there are far fewer opportunities to steal like a classic openside. Unless the man with the ball is very isolated, the tackler now can hardly steal the ball. There are ways round it, legally, and Pocock and McCaw did it well. Yeah, the directives should make it easier to play New Zealand. On the flipside they are going to get more quick ball [but] I much prefer these open, flowing games. That wasn't happening in the year and a half when the tackler was allowed to cause mayhem on the ball. I was really annoyed by that."

It is as difficult to imagine the laid-back Worsley annoyed as it is to imagine him wearing a different club jersey to Wasps black. He has turned down approaches from France in the past but that may change. "I want to go and experience rugby abroad but that will be when I've finished with England. At the end of the World Cup I'll have a look at it. When you're 21, getting selected for England is the be-all and end-all. Now I worry about fitness, weights and speed sessions. I back my ability. If I'm fit, I'm good enough to be on that pitch."

Suggested Topics
Arts & Entertainment
Ricky Gervais at a screening of 'Muppets Most Wanted' in London last month
tvAs the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian on why he'll never bow to critics who habitually circle his work
Arts & Entertainment
Don (John Hamm) and Megan (Jessica Paré) Draper are going their separate ways in the final series of ‘Mad Men’
tvReview: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
News
news
Life & Style
Going down: Google's ambition to build an elevator into space isn't likely to be fulfilled any time soon
techTechnology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
News
David Cameron sings a hymn during the enthronement service of The Most Rev Justin Welby as Archbishop of Canterbury, at Canterbury Cathedral last year
news
Life & Style
From long to Jong: Guy Pewsey outside Mo Nabbach’s M&M Hair Academy in west London before the haircut
fashionThe Independent heads to an Ealing hairdressers to try out the North Korean dictator's trademark do
Sport
Vito Mannone fails to keep out Samir Nasri's late strike
sportMan City 2 Sunderland 2: Keeper flaps at Nasri's late leveller, but Black Cat striker's two goals in 10 minutes had already done damage
Extras
indybest10 best smartphones
News
peopleRyan Gosling says yes, science says no. Take the A-list facial hair challenge
Arts & Entertainment
tvCreator Vince Gilligan sheds light on alternate endings
Life & Style
Google Doodle celebrates the 63rd anniversary of the Peak District National Park
tech
News
Paul Weller, aka the Modfather, performing at last year’s Isle of Wight Festival in Newport
people
Life & Style
Michael Acton Smith founded Firebox straight out of university before creating Moshi Monsters
techHe started out selling silliness with online retailer Firebox, before launching virtual creatures who took the real world by storm
News
Ethical matters: pupils during a philosophy lesson
educationTaunton School's policy of putting philosophy at heart of its curriculum is one of secrets of its success
Arts & Entertainment
Play It Forward: the DC Record Fair in Washington, US
musicIndependent music shops can offer a tempting alternative to downloads on Record Store Day
Caption competition
Caption competition
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics

Is sexual harassment a fact of gay life?

Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics
Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith: The man behind a British success story

Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith

Acton Smith launched a world of virtual creatures who took the real world by storm
Kim Jong-un's haircut: The Independent heads to Ealing to try out the dictator's do

Our journalist tries out Kim Jong-un's haircut

The North Korean embassy in London complained when M&M Hair Academy used Kim Jong-un's image in the window. Curious, Guy Pewsey heads to the hair salon and surrenders to the clippers
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part
Vespa rides on with launch of Primavera: Iconic Italian scooter still revving up millions of sales

Vespa rides on with launch of the Primavera

The Vespa has been a style icon since the 1950s and the release this month of its latest model confirms it has lost little of its lustre
Record Store Day: Independent music shops can offer a tempting alternative to downloads

Record Store Day celebrates independent music shops

This Saturday sees a host of events around the country to champion the sellers of well-grooved wax
Taunton's policy of putting philosophy at heart of its curriculum is one of secrets of its success

Education: Secret of Taunton's success

Taunton School, in Somerset, is one of the country's leading independent schools, says Richard Garner
10 best smartphones

10 best smartphones

With a number of new smartphones on the market, we round up the best around, including some more established models
Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

The former Australia coach on why England must keep to Plan A, about his shock at their collapse Down Under, why he sent players home from India and the agonies of losing his job
Homelessness: Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Zubairi Sentongo swapped poverty in Uganda for homelessness in Britain. But a YMCA scheme connected him with a couple offering warmth and shelter
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park
The pain of IVF

The pain of IVF

As an Italian woman vows to keep the babies from someone else’s eggs, Julian Baggini ponders how the reality of childbirth is often messier than the natural ideal