Gomarsall emerges from the scrapheap

Come in No 9. Scrum-half refuses to let Sixways sacking dent his hopes
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The Independent Online

When Andy Gomarsall joined Worcester in April last year, John Brain, the director of rugby, said: "We regard this as a key signing in our plans to be a major player on the English and European stage." In June this year, when the scrum-half's contract was terminated, Brain was less forthcoming. "Andy Gomarsall is no longer an employee of the club," he said.

In the space of two seasons Gomarsall had gone from being the No 1 England No 9 to unemployed. "It was horrible, awful," he said. "I wouldn't wish it on anyone." It is rare for a high-profile player to be treated in such fashion in the Guinness Premiership. Gomarsall had signed a three-year contract and intended to honour it.

The upshot is that the 32-year-old Gomarsall - who was picked up by Harlequins a couple of weeks ago and yesterday played against Sale in the EDF Energy Cup - is claiming that Worcester owe him compensation, and the Professional Rugby Players' Association have become involved in the dispute.

How did it come to this? In some ways Gomarsall is his own worst enemy. "I tend to put my cards on the table," he said. "I'm upfront and honest. I won't sit back and say nothing." It has been one of the hallmarks of his career. Andy Keast, formerly at Gloucester, was Brain's No 2 at Worcester and he wanted Gomarsall because he had "one of the best passes in world rugby".

"I was massively keen," Gomarsall said, "because I knew how Andy, who is a bloody good coach, wanted to develop the way that Worcester played, and they needed a scrum-half to run the show. It would be my last big deal and I wanted things to be right.

"At my first training session they told me that Andy had been sacked. I thought, 'Holy shit'. It wasn't the start I wanted, but I had a job to do and I had to get on with it. At times Andy had a habit of shouting at players. To me it was water off a duck's back, but some of the others didn't like it. He's not involved in the game any more and it's a great loss."

Under Brain, a former Gloucester forward, Worcester usually go for brawn; a huge pack fighting a war of attrition, supplemented with a kicking scrum-half. When Gomarsall was demoted to the bench (Matt Powell was preferred) he was told that he was not playing to the team's resources.

"At one point I sat down with John and told him the way we were playing didn't suit my style," Gomarsall said. "I suggested an alternative, but he wasn't interested. The fact is I started 17 matches and Worcester won 12 of them. Matt started 14 and they won four. Everything at Worcester was brilliant except the rugby. John's a good forwards coach."

In the month that Gomarsall was "released" from Sixways his wife, Francesca, gave birth to twin daughters, Olivia and Indiana. "Leaving Worcester like that was the lowest point in my career, but becoming a father was the best thing ever. I have two adorable little girls and in many ways they've kept me going. I thought I was on the scrapheap."

Many players who are deemed surplus to requirements are given sufficient notice to join another club. When Gomarsall got his P45, squads in the Premiership had been finalised. Worcester - in the close season they signed another scrum-half, Ryan Powell, from Cardiff - justified their action by claiming that Gomarsall "hadn't played to the level of his experience" and "hadn't given value for money". Gomarsall counters: "What happened at Sixways had nothing to do with my game."

He was Andy Robinson's first choice, but although he started in all three of England's autumn Tests in 2004, his appearance against Australia at Twickenham that year brought the last of his 23 caps. It coincided with a loss of form at Gloucester, where five excellent seasons ended on a sour note.

One factor was the departure of Nigel Melville, who had reached the end of the road with the owner, Tom Walkinshaw. "After leaving Wasps, Nigel had resurrected my career," Gomarsall said, "so perhaps it was time to move on."

There were other factors. "I loved the club and the people but the training facilities were atrocious. You risked injury, because there were huge stones on the pitch, we changed in Portakabins and the showers were colder than the ice bath.

"I used to love training but it became a chore," he added. "It was reflected in the way we began to play. The squad spent a lot of time together and was like a family, but it started to break up. Contracts were not being renewed, people were being messed around and it left a bad taste. The trouble is there's not a lot you can do about it."

Gomarsall, who has sold his house in Cheltenham, is on a one-year contract at Quins. They have two scrum-halves, Danny Care and Steve So'oialo, but the Samoan is injured. They want Gomarsall to do what he was initially asked to do at Worcester, run the show and boss the forwards around.

"I'm absolutely loving it," he said. "The handcuffs are off."

Gomarsall is a World Cup MBE, courtesy of England's exploits in Australia in 2003, and he has not given up on playing a part in the 2007 version. "What is fantastic for someone like me is the example set by Mike Catt, who had such a year for London Irish and got back into the England team. I've still got huge ambition. It's up to me to rewrite the story."

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