Luke Narraway: 'A lot of people are saying we have run out of excuses and need to nail a trophy'

Gloucester travel to London Irish for today's top of the Premiership showdown with No 8 Luke Narraway determined that they lose their reputation as serial chokers and, as he tells Chris Hewett, to force his way back into the England team

There were any number of mysteries surrounding England during the autumn international series at Twickenham, ranging from simple selection puzzles – why, in the name of God, would anyone in full possession of his faculties drop the outstanding Tom Rees for the New Zealand game? – to more complex issues of strategy. As it was far from clear that a strategy actually existed, those brave souls seeking the truth of the matter found themselves wrestling with the most mind-boggling conundrum of all.

Given the high degree of confusion, the sudden disappearance of Luke Narraway from the starting line-up caused less comment than might otherwise have been the case. There was a whiff of something odd, even so. The red-rose management reported shortly before the opening match against the Pacific Islands that the Gloucester No 8 was injured, but as senior England figures down the years had been less than frank on questions of fitness – George Smiley himself might have been more inclined to keep the public in the picture – some wondered, not unreasonably, whether the selectors were over-egging a minor hamstring tweak as a means of restoring the in-form Nick Easter, of Harlequins, to the back row of the scrum.

Their dodgy yarn-spinning over Andrew Sheridan's physical condition before the record defeat by South Africa, which would have been hilarious had it not been so pathetic, reinforced this suspicion. So, Luke: give us the real story.

"I was," he confirmed this week, "very definitely injured. It was a hamstring problem, basically, but it was also more than that because it affected a set of nerves that left me with a lot of discomfort in my back. It was one of those really frustrating things: I'd get to within an inch of being fit, only to find the problem flaring up again without warning. By the time South Africa week came around, we all agreed it would be better for me to concentrate on getting some game time with Gloucester."

For Narraway, this was profoundly unfortunate. Drafted into the side by Brian Ashton during last season's Six Nations Championship, he travelled south for the two-Test tour of All Black country in June and, in sharp contrast to the overwhelming majority of his fellow countrymen, performed magnificently, both in Auckland and Christchurch. Together with the high-profile Wasps flankers Tom Rees and James Haskell – "You always get talked about more when you play for a London club," he said with a knowing smirk – the butcher's son from Worcestershire lost nothing to the New Zealanders at the breakdown, even though England were splattered everywhere else. As a consequence, he flew home justifiably confident that he would hold his place for the autumn programme.

Now, he finds himself wondering whether he will make the cut when Martin Johnson names his revamped 32-man "elite player squad" for the 2009 Six Nations in mid-January. Easter, omitted from the original EPS in July but back in the affections of the England forwards coach John Wells well before Narraway twanged his hamstring, performed strongly last month, scoring a try against the Wallabies and standing up to be counted against Richie McCaw, Rodney So'oialo and the rest of the All Black glitterati. As the multi-purpose Haskell can also do a turn at No 8, will there be room for everyone? Er, um.

"It's certainly true to say that I felt good about the way things went in New Zealand, even though we lost both games heavily," Narraway remarked. "To play for your country against the All Blacks? I mean no disrespect to Wales or Ireland or France, but that's the dream, isn't it? It's the thing every rugby-mad kid wishes for the moment he starts playing. I was quite nervous, going up against McCaw and So'oialo, but then I thought: 'Hang on a minute. If I don't do too well against these blokes, I won't be the first to finish second. And anyway, it will be nice to be able to say I tested myself against them.' As it turned out, I came out of those games a lot more confident than I went in.

"What happens now? I haven't a clue. Nick is a good player who plays a different kind of No 8 game to me and offers different things. If Martin comes on the phone and says: 'Luke, this is the way we want to play and we don't really see you fitting into the system', I'll just have to take it on the chin. All I know is this: the way Gloucester play suits my skill-set and, with the big games coming up over the next three weeks or so, in both the Premiership and the Heineken Cup, I have a chance to show a thing or two. If I don't make the squad despite playing well for my club, at least I'll know I couldn't have done any more."

The first of those significant fixtures takes place at the Madejski Stadium in Reading this afternoon, where second-placed Gloucester face the Premiership leaders London Irish. Two footballing sides, playing on a firm footballers' surface with licence to attack from all areas of the pitch? It should suit Narraway's wide-ranging, highly skilled brand of open-field revelry down to the ground. Even if the game closes in on itself, he has the equipment to thrive. Sir Clive Woodward would no doubt call him a "heads-up player", but these days, he gets his head down too, thanks to the insistence of his club coach, Dean Ryan, that he develop a nasty streak to underpin all the nice bits of his act.

"Irish have been threatening to break into whatever the rugby equivalent is of football's 'big four' for some time now," he said. "They're a tight-knit bunch who know their game and they have some quality people working behind the scenes. Everyone rates Toby Booth as a top coach, and in Mike Catt they have one of the brightest rugby players of the last 15 years moving them in the right direction. Am I surprised they are where they are? No, I don't think so. Ask anyone around the Premiership, and they'll tell you it's a tough day out at London Irish.

"But we feel amongst ourselves that this should be our time. There are a lot of people out there saying that we've run out of excuses and that we have to nail a trophy this season. To which I can only point out that the players themselves also feel a title is overdue, that no one who has spent any time at the club wants to go another season without winning something and that the pressure we're putting on ourselves is every bit as great as, and probably greater than, the pressure coming in from outside.

"When we were smashed by Leicester at Twickenham in the Premiership final a couple of seasons ago" – he blanched at the phrase "Tuilagi Day", remembering how the brick-outhouse wing from Samoa single-handedly marmalised the entire Gloucester side – "we consoled ourselves by saying we were a year short of our peak. Unfortunately, we couldn't use that argument last season. I'd say losing to the same opponents in that semi-final in May, in front of our own supporters at Kingsholm, was a career low point for those of us involved. We had all the equipment, all the tools in the toolbox, to win the championship, but we got ahead of ourselves and messed it up. We were in a hell of a state afterwards – not because we knew we would get stuffed in the press, or that Stuart Barnes would be on Sky saying we'd never win anything as long as we lived, but because we'd let ourselves down.

"When we mucked up against Leicester again back in September, it came to a head. Dean was pretty fierce in his criticism – at the time, I even wondered whether he'd had enough – and it dawned on us that what we were doing in big matches wasn't good enough and that we had to take our share of the responsibility, accept our share of the blame. There were a few times when Mike Tindall, as captain, and the other senior players called meetings away from the coaches and said: 'Look, this isn't about them getting it wrong. It's about us getting it wrong.' It was the start of a re-evaluation process that was very thorough, very honest and very important. The way we're playing now is the result of that process."

Gloucester are certainly playing: 10 victories in their last 11 matches spread over three competitions, the last four of them by margins of 20 points or more, tell their own story. They also have a squad to die for, not least in the loose-forward department, where Ryan has access to such contrasting luminaries as Peter Buxton, Gareth Delve, Andy Hazell, Akapusi Qera and Alasdair Strokosch.

It says something for Narraway's recent progress that his first-team place is as secure as anyone's. And he is right about the England business. If he can get a regular run for Gloucester in the face of competition so strong that it may be unprecedented in the annals of English club rugby, international matters will surely take care of themselves.

Sport
Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi during Barcelona training in August
footballPete Jenson co-ghost wrote Suarez’s autobiography and reveals how desperate he's been to return
News
newsMcKamey Manor says 'there is no escape until the tour is completed'
Voices
Hunted: A stag lies dead on Jura, where David Cameron holidays and has himself stalked deer
voicesThe Scotland I know is becoming a playground for the rich
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
newsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
News
Laurence Easeman and Russell Brand
people
Sport
Fans of Dulwich Hamlet FC at their ground Champion Hill
footballFans are rejecting the £2,000 season tickets, officious stewarding, and airline-stadium sponsorship
News
Shami Chakrabarti
people
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
filmBenedict Cumberbatch reignites Star Wars 7 rumours
Sport
football
News
news
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

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker