New model Cueto ready for long run

Christmas is naturally a time for taking stock, and for Mark Cueto doubly so. Today is the Sale and England wing's birthday, though he will barely have a chance to blow the 25 candles out on the cake before eschewing his parents' company at their house near Crewe, and setting off for afternoon training. It's a captain's run at the club and Cueto, though revelling in life on every front, is not about to keep Jason Robinson waiting.

"Things couldn't be going much better for me," said Cueto, and the justification for the sentiment is not difficult to identify. Last month he won his first three caps for his country, helping himself to four tries in the autumn series against Canada, South Africa and Australia at Twickenham. An unfortunate knock-on effect of the international window was to slam the door temporarily on Sale's fine start to the campaign, with the Mancunian side parted from the heart of their team and suffering three successive defeats as a result. But Cueto's contribution, when not on international duty, has been exemplary: seven tries in 10 appearances and, overall, a remarkable 49 tries in 95 matches since his senior debut in August 2001.

"The biggest improvement in my game this season has been getting up in the line to cut down the opposition's space," Cueto explained. "It is not that I'm more aggressive than before. It's just a change of approach, which all the Sale wingers have been using. You can give away easy territory to opponents down that five- or 10-metre wing channel. We're making sure we don't do that, and I guess it's one of the reasons I've had the recognition from England."

Sale host Bath in the Premiership tomorrow, with the teams third and fourth in the table respectively. Sale's advantage in points difference and bonus points reflects the commitment to attack under their coach, Philippe Saint-André. As a former wing and Test captain, the Frenchman has been good news for Cueto since arriving from Bourgoin last spring.

"Everyone here loved [the previous coaches] Jim Mallinder and Steve Diamond," said Cueto. "But it's been brilliant having the new challenge with Philippe and [forwards coach] Kingsley Jones. One thing we were keen to keep was the way Sale played, with backs who like to run with the ball. Philippe enjoys that style, and he's given me key pointers as an individual, too."

If Cueto fails to register his 50th Sale try tomorrow there are plenty more chances in January, with Premiership fixtures against Newcastle and Northampton either side of a European Challenge Cup double-header against Agen, and a Powergen Cup quarter-final rematch with Bath.

Then it's on, possibly, to Cueto's first Six Nations' Championship, not that he is taking anything for granted. "England is always in the back of your mind, but the long-term policy I've had with myself is to concentrate on club form. As soon as you lose focus and think about internationals that aren't upon you yet, you can quickly get on a slippery slope."

The Agen tie is likely to pit Cueto against Rupeni Caucaunibuca, the Fijian sensation of the last World Cup. The pair hail from opposite ends of the earth - the Englishman was born in Cumbria, with his name deriving from some Spanish ancestry - but share characteristics: burning pace and a wicked sidestep, a barrel of a chest if brute force is called for, and of course a simple love of scoring tries.

Cueto played mini-rugby between the ages of five and eight, then concentrated on football and had to be reintroduced to the oval ball at 17. In the third of three years spent with Altrincham Kersal, he would turn out in North West One on a Saturday and for Sale's Under-21s in midweek. "I needed game time - the more I played, the better it was for me." To judge by the messages of goodwill on the Altrincham Kersal website, Cueto's old cohorts are delighted at how he has edged past the likes of Ben Cohen, Dan Luger and the injured James Simpson-Daniel into the national team.

For a while, it seemed Cueto might not make the ultimate breakthrough. England went on a mini-tour to Argentina in June 2002, and although Cueto scored a try in the midweek team which lost narrowly to the Pumas' A side, he returned from the long trip south a long way off full selection.

"It was at the end of my first professional season," he recalled. "I was a raw player and there was a lot for me to learn. It wasn't that I didn't know to tackle, but my positioning was letting me down."

His positioning was spot-on for the try from Henry Paul's cross-kick against South Africa which thrilled Twickenham a few weeks ago. "It felt like I was waving my arms for ages," Cueto said with a chuckle. "Thankfully I caught Henry's eye somehow."

Sale and England will hope Cueto the birthday boy continues to catch the eye in 2005.

Barn owls are among species that could be affected
charity appeal
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricketEoin Morgan reportedly to take over ODI captaincy
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas