'Gobsmacked' Easter settles into new environment

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The Independent Online

England's new 18st blind-side flanker had barely set foot inside the team hotel in Bath when he was rocked back on his heels by Brian Ashton, who weighs about three stone dripping wet. "Congratulations, you're in the starting line-up," said the coach as Nick Easter was lugging his bags towards the reception desk. "It's best you know now."

Easter, 28, had travelled down from London under the impression that he would spend a couple of hours on the training field in a cannon-fodder capacity. It was a reasonable assumption, given that his representative career amounted only to a 20-minute run-out with the second-string England A side at Exeter the previous Friday evening.

Ashton had other ideas, as he so often does. Joe Worsley's neck injury, suffered during the second half of the Calcutta Cup victory over Scotland last weekend, had opened up a hole in the back row against Italy at Twickenham on Saturday, and the coach had fixed on Easter as the man to fill it.

"I was fairly gobsmacked for a while," the Harlequins forward acknowledged yesterday, "but I'm beginning to come to terms with it now. I'm being encouraged to play my own game this weekend and that's important to me - after all, it's why I've been picked. I have to put a performance together in a very different environment to the one I've known. It's a higher standard, of course, and there will have to be a strong element of team structure about what I do, but I'm confident I can bring something of myself to the game."

He is not short of confidence, the Londoner, and much of that confidence comes from the happy-go-lucky streak that characterised his early years in the senior game. A mathematics graduate from Nottingham Trent University, where he "burnt the candle at both ends", Easter spent a year playing a decent level of rugby in Cape Town before taking up a job in the City. "I didn't know whether the professional rugby route was the one for me, and as there weren't too many clubs looking anyway, I joined an investment fund company. It was tedious stuff, to be honest - a dogsbody role in data input."

After six months of this purgatory, he joined Orrell as a full-time player. "I'd been playing as an amateur with Rosslyn Park when the offer came in. Orrell had some big money behind them then and I spent three seasons there. When the money was pulled out, a dozen of us moved to Rotherham, where the same thing happened.

"Then, a chance arose at Quins. Mark Evans [then the Harlequins coach, as well as chief executive] told me: 'I'm not actually looking for a back-row forward, but I feel in a generous mood. You can have three months, take it or leave it.' I took it, of course."

And the rest, as they say, is history. Easter played a blinder in his first season, but Quins were still bottom of the Premiership. "I was gutted to find myself back in National League One, which put me out of the limelight while other guys in my position were doing well in the top league. But there was a clear determination to get straight back up and I was right to stay.

"Actually, I'm quite happy with the way my past panned out. And even though I'm making sacrifices now - there comes a time when you have to ask yourself what you're looking to get out of the game - I still want to enjoy my time in rugby, not turn into some sort of robot."