England's running puts Sheridan on back foot

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The Independent Online

Like a man who turned up expecting to be centre stage only to be left stuck in the wings Andrew Sheridan found England's sweeping, guns-blazing 35-18 victory over Australia on Saturday as much a shock as a memorable occasion.

The Sale loosehead had spent all week preparing for another scrummaging war with the Wallabies and the man who wrecked Australia's front row in 2005 and 2007 was unquestionably the focus of the visitors' attention as the game against England at Twickenham loomed into view.

So it is difficult to know who was the more astonished when the encounter exploded into action in just about every aspect of play except the scrum. "You could say I was a bit put out," admitted Sheridan. "All those scrums in training yet only eight in the whole game. I really cannot recall the last time I played in the game with so few scrums. No wonder my lungs were burning, all that running around.

"I went into the game expecting the scrums to be a bit of a mess, lots of re-sets and recriminations. Instead, they were purely incidental as we started like drag-racers and somehow kept up the high-tempo momentum.

"I'm very grateful for the fact that I played against New Zealand the week before," he added, "because I found that painful and difficult. No sooner had I played a few games for Sale after so long sidelined than I hurt my sternum and missed more matches.

"So when I faced the best team in the world as my first Test since playing in the third Lions international against South Africa in July 2009, I knew I would go through the pain barrier. At least we had a more regular number of scrums."

As Sheridan prepares for Saturday's third autumn international with Samoa, it is worth remembering just how big a battle "Big Ted" has endured to return to the top of the game.

Sheridan was a certainty for last year's autumn Tests going into a Heineken Cup tie for Sale against Cardiff Blues in October when a moment's loss of focus in a scrum resulted in a dislocated shoulder that required major surgery and kept him a frustrated spectator for 10 months.

Between seemingly endless physio sessions and stamina building, Sheridan relaxed by writing songs on his guitar and recording them. When a team-mate suggested that too much strumming would tax his shoulder, Sheridan's fixed stare ensured the gag died on the vine. But in truth, the man's dry humour is of the Martini variety.

"Like the vast majority of people at Twickenham, I enjoyed watching Chris Ashton's second try," he recalled. "No, I wasn't the Sale player on Chris's shoulder, that was my team-mate Mark Cueto. If I remember correctly, I was back in my own half, enjoying the spectacle.

"The game had an extraordinary number of long passages of play without a peep of the whistle. I ran around a lot, made carries, tackles and lots of heavy breathing. But running the ball from behind our own line ? Not really my speciality, but it was great to watch."

Sheridan believes England's use of the Global Positioning System (GPS), which monitors heart-rate, speed and distance covered by all the players, is a huge benefit in terms of high-quality preparation.

He added: "Attention to detail is of the highest standard. And when you know that every mistake you make will be a coach's laptop video nasty for your attention on the Monday, it does tend to focus the mind."

The England manager, Martin Johnson, will today name his starting XV to face Samoa which is likely to include three changes as several players are rested. Hendre Fourie will replace Lewis Moody, James Haskell comes in for Tom Croft and Matt Banahan takes over from Mike Tindall. In Moody's absence, the captain's armband is expected to pass to Nick Easter.

Habana out of action

South Africa wing Bryan Habana will play no further part in the autumn Test series after breaking a bone in his hand when he fell awkwardly during training yesterday.