Patience the new game for Simpson-Daniel

James Simpson-Daniel co-owns a racehorse called Leitrim Rock with his father. Not that this is a tipping service, but the inside info from the Gloucester wing is to resist investing in a win double on his club to take their Heineken Cup quarter-final at Wasps today, and his four-legged friend to romp home at Warwick on Tuesday. Simpson-Daniel fancies Gloucester's chances, albeit they are second favourites at the home of the English champions. It is Leitrim Rock that he is less confident about.

James Simpson-Daniel co-owns a racehorse called Leitrim Rock with his father. Not that this is a tipping service, but the inside info from the Gloucester wing is to resist investing in a win double on his club to take their Heineken Cup quarter-final at Wasps today, and his four-legged friend to romp home at Warwick on Tuesday. Simpson-Daniel fancies Gloucester's chances, albeit they are second favourites at the home of the English champions. It is Leitrim Rock that he is less confident about.

The horse's record of no wins in six races is the subject of much banter among the Cherry-and-White fraternity. Simpson-Daniel is happy to learn the ropes - and the costs - of a being an owner. While the team-mates keep nagging, the nag in question has had a six-month rest, a change of yard to Tony Newcombe's in Devon, and a shift up in distance to a mile and a quarter. "We've tried the carrot, and we've tried the pig-prodder up the backside," Simpson-Daniel said, with a smile.

There is a poignant background to all of this. Simpson-Daniel had made a pact with his friend, Nick Duncombe, the Harlequins and England scrum-half, to buy a horse. When Duncombe died just over a year ago, Simpson-Daniel resolved to carry on. "I'm planning to buy a yearling or a two-year-old, and it'll be named after Nick in some way, probably something to do with Queenie. That's what I called Nick. He had a London accent, and we used to have a laugh about the Queen's English."

Simpson-Daniel was a novice 18-year-old when he played in Gloucester's only Heineken Cup semi-final, a narrow defeat by Leicester at Watford in 2001. He joined the Cherry-and-Whites from Sedbergh School with all the right breeding, as the second of four rugby-playing brothers, and his career was cantering along nicely when he earned his England cap against the All Blacks in November 2002. But he was pipped at the post for a place in last year's World Cup squad: No 31 or 32 in the declarations for a final field of 30. Simpson-Daniel stayed with Gloucester, and watched on television as England took the Webb Ellis Cup.

"The real impact was when the full England squad met up for the Six Nations," he said. "I walked in the room, and it hit home that it was different to beforehand, when I had been with them, building up for the World Cup. It was strange, I've got to admit that. It's definitely a mental thing. You see them and you try to put yourself in the same category as them. But everyone round the table had won the World Cup, and done fantastically to win it, and there were a couple of us who weren't part of it. Clive Woodward said publicly afterwards that every one involved in the lead-up contributed to winning the World Cup, but I don't feel the same."

A rib injury prevented him staking any claim in the opening Six Nations matches in Italy and Scotland, and for the past few weeks the man they nickname "Sinbad" has been floundering in choppy waters. This is when Woodward - though clearly a fan of one of the country's most naturally gifted players - is said to earn his keep. "Clive phoned me up before the third Six Nations game, against Ireland," said Simpson-Daniel. "He said, 'James, I'm going to put you straight on the bench, I want you raring to go'. For him to do that - when he could easily have put me in the A game - was a confidence thing."

And, as with Simpson-Daniel's equine pursuit, he is coming to understand that patience is crucial. He was annoyed he didn't do more in a half-hour substitute appearance against the Irish, and Woodward cautioned him over when to go in as first receiver, and when to let others do the work. Against Wales and France, Simpson-Daniel was confined to the bench, with the World Cup back three of Jason Robinson, Josh Lewsey and Ben Cohen holding sway. "I look at it very plainly," Simpson-Daniel said. "Yeah, it's my aim for the future to get in the starting line-up, but I couldn't beat myself up because I wasn't starting ahead of those three."

Gloucester have Duncan McRae and Henry Paul to do their playmaking and, like England, deploy Simpson-Daniel on the wing. "James has got very special ability and skills that make him different," said Nigel Melville, the Gloucester director of rugby, "but, no matter who you are, you have to learn to be a professional. You can't be a one-trick pony, so to speak. He's started kicking for almost the first time, and he's been working on the high ball and other defensive aspects."

Wasps and their famed blitz defence did for Gloucester in convincing fashion in last season's Zurich Premiership final, but McRae and Paul are in the mood to set Simpson-Daniel and his fellow wing, Marcel Garvey, roaming free. "The Heineken Cup is like the Champions' League - the sides you play against are the best in Europe," said Simpson-Daniel, and it is a view echoed by Lawrence Dallaglio, the Wasps and England captain, who cheered Chelsea to victory at Arsenal in midweek, and met Roman Abramovich afterwards.

Whoever makes it to the winner's circle this afternoon will take on Munster or Stade Français in the last four, in either Dublin or Paris. "If we can get through these games and lift the cup, we know we'll have deserved it," said Simpson-Daniel.

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