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
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Extras
indybest
Travel
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Sport
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
football
News
Ronahi Serhat, a PKK fighter, in the Qandil Mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Poet’s corner: Philip Larkin at the venetian window of his home in 1958
booksOr caring, playful man who lived for others? A new book has the answer
Arts and Entertainment
Exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Metz - 23 May 2012
art
News
Matthew McConaughey and his son Levi at the game between the Boston Red Sox and the Houston Astros at Fenway Park on August 17, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts.
advertisingOscar-winner’s Lincoln deal is latest in a lucrative ad production line
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'
film
News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention