New boy Cole ready to raise his game against the Azzurri

Prop could not get in Leicester team last year but on Sunday makes his England debut. Chris Hewett reports on a remarkable rise

This time last year, Dan Cole did not know whether he was coming or going. Some weekends, he could be seen twiddling his sausage-sized thumbs on the Leicester bench, hoping that one the many props ranked above him would break a fingernail or snap an eyelash before close of play.

At other times he was farmed out to Nottingham, a Second Division side happy to find a place for surplus Welford Roaders in need of meaningful exercise. Even if he could not say where he was heading then, he has certainly arrived now.

Having made his England debut off the bench against Wales last week, the 22-year-old tight-head prop will make a first international start against the hard-scrummaging Italians in Rome on Sunday. His direct opponent is likely to be the formidable Salvatore Perugini, who plays his club rugby in Toulouse. On the other side of the front row he expects to find Martin Castrogiovanni the wild-haired exile from the Argentine pampas. Outside the Test environment, Castrogiovanni earns his corn at ... Leicester.

Cole's recent progress has been such that Leicester are now not sure who they regard as their senior tight-head operator. Castrogiovanni has 63 caps to his name but on current form, the younger man has it over him. Then there is Julian White, the old-style front-row enforcer who would snap a man's ribs as soon as look at him. If recent selection is anything to go by, Cole has it over him, too.

"Leicester is such a good place to learn," said the newcomer who was born in the city, attended local schools and did his share of front-row stir in the Tigers' academy. "Graham Rowntree and Richard Cockerill have been big influences on me, and competing against Martin and Julian gives you a sense of ambition which forces you up to a higher level of performance."

According to Rowntree, who was playing first-team rugby at Leicester when Cole was an apprentice and now works closely with him as England's scrum coach, the youngster has "something about him", albeit in a quiet way. "There's not much of the bravado thing with Dan," he said, "although I'm sure he'll be there in line if things kick off at the weekend. Is he too young? My answer to that is simple: he's a player in form. As a prop, you're either doing it or you're not doing it. Dan is doing it. Like David Wilson [the other tight-head specialist in the party], he's an inexperienced player at this level and it won't be easy going for either of them as they learn what international rugby is about. But we have two props full of potential here and that's good for us. There aren't many around."

There is no Union heritage in the Cole family. Asked about his background he mentioned his "mum's genes" – not especially complimentary given the particular demands of his role on a rugby field – and his grandfather, a Cumbrian miner who "may or may not have played a bit of rugby league". He was happier talking about the big-match performances over the last two months that earned him promotion from the Saxons squad and propelled him into the selectors' thinking for this important arm-wrestle with the Azzurri.

"A lot has been said about Leicester's scrummaging against Wasps last month," he commented, "but that wasn't a one-off. We'd been performing well leading into the game, but this was the one on national television." To the front-row cognoscenti, the big leap forward was his contribution off the bench against Clermont Auvergne in the Heineken Cup. "That really was a pressure game," he agreed. "I felt I needed to prove myself that day." And he did. As Rowntree put it: "Dan's display was as good as we could have hoped to see." Something similar on Sunday will put the latest in a long line of Leicester hard-heads firmly in contention for next year's World Cup.

Suggested Topics
News
Russell Brand was in typically combative form during his promotional interview with Newsnight's Evan Davis
peopleReports that Brand could stand for Mayor on an 'anti-politics' ticket
News
The clocks go forward an hour at 1am on Sunday 30 March
news
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor finds himself in a forest version of London in Doctor Who episode 'In the Forest of the Night'
TVReview: Is the Doctor ever going stop frowning? Apparently not.
News
Voluminous silk drawers were worn by Queen Victoria
newsThe silk underwear is part of a growing trade in celebrity smalls
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
footballMatch report: Real fight back to ruin Argentinian's debut
News
Candidates with surnames that start with an A have an electoral advantage
newsVoters are biased towards names with letters near start of alphabet
Arts and Entertainment
Isis with Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville)
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jay James
TVReview: Performances were stale and cheesier than a chunk of Blue Stilton left out for a month
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