Reflective Rees lets his talent do the talking

Click to follow
The Independent Online

It was a classic pincer movement, perfectly executed. Tom Rees and James Haskell, Wasps' England back-rowers, moved either side of their target, grabbed a leg each and cleaned him out of the action. OK, so Josh Lewsey was busy giving a BBC radio interview at the training ground and could have done without his team-mates playing a prank. But after an autumn of discontent, any bit of fun is a relief.

Having deposited Lewsey, who was explaining why he no longer wanted to play for England, back on terra firma, Rees – who, like Haskell, still yearns with every sinew to serve his country – considered Wasps' prospects of defeating Edinburgh today.

It would be a third straight win after a demoralising opening run of seven defeats in nine Premiership and Heineken Cup matches.

The subject of England cropped up, too. It had to after a trio of heavy defeats by the Tri-Nations at Twickenham last month. The oddity was that Rees felt his own form for Wasps had been good, while many neutral judges revelled in the sight of him unfettered by injury at last and playing confidently against the Pacific Islanders, Australia and South Africa. Then he was dropped to the bench in favour of Bath's Michael Lipman against the All Blacks, who won 32-6.

"By no means am I happy not to get picked," said Rees, who, at 24 and after a couple of knee injuries, has 15 caps. "But Martin Johnson [the manager] was perfectly honest when he said they wanted to give 'Lippy' a go and it didn't feel like I'd been pushed to one side." The 'Lippy' nickname is only a corruption of Lipman, but the Bath flanker did attribute his selection in part to his vocal presence.

Rees says his own relative quietude need not prevent him being the national captain (he has done it with the Under-21s). "It's interesting, this idea of leadership," he said. "Sometimes people feel if something is lacking, shouting and noise makes up for it. If something needs to be said, I will say it. But it would be wrong of me to try and change, it would be forced and it wouldn't be natural.

"I watched the All Blacks line up before they went out, in the tunnel. None of them said a word. No banging their heads or shouting. Just completely comfortable and relaxed in what they are. Richie McCaw [captain and openside] doesn't say a word, just gets on with his job and does it really well. I've got a lot of time for that."

Rees declared his support for Steve Borthwick, another out of the softly-softly task force, and pleaded for time for club and country to develop. "People jumped on England's extra preparation time," Rees said. "I thought that was hilarious. Look at the number of caps guys have got. We're starting from scratch." He paused and exhaled sharply. "You feel like such an arsehole answering questions like this because really it's 'yeah, we lost'. I tried my heart out and it wasn't good enough. We've got to try to get better. We can only look after what we do."

Rees scored a late, knee-scraping, muscular try in the reverse fixture against Edinburgh nine days ago to secure Wasps a 25-16 win at Murrayfield. "We thought the ELVs [Experimental Law Variations] would be right up our street, the tempo would rise and rise and we'd stick with it," said Rees. "The amount of kicking caught us by surprise and we were sloppy in the contact area."

This does not reflect well on the coaching of Ian McGeechan and Shaun Edwards, but Rees predicts his team will still have a big say in the Premiership and Europe. "When people are in two or three minds, that's when mistakes come. Now we're doing things with conviction, so others will go barrelling in after you, and it works."