Sanderson's on-off career looks back on track

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The Independent Online

The World Cup in France is only two years away, but as far as Pat Sanderson is concerned it could just as well be staged on the moon in the 22nd century. The next Six Nations Championship is even closer, but the England flanker has not given it a second thought. Not even the visit of Samoa to Twickenham next weekend will find its way on to his radar until after this afternoon's heavyweight confrontation at headquarters against the All Blacks.

Having taken his international bow in 1998, Sanderson still has only seven full caps to his name. He waited three years between his third and fourth, four years between his sixth and seventh. It was more than seven years after his debut that he made his first England appearance at Twickenham, last weekend against Australia.

No wonder he takes nothing for granted and follows "one of the best pieces of advice I've ever had" - handed down by his former Harlequins colleague, Keith Wood.

"We were sitting in the car after a training session and I was telling him about something that was on my mind," Sanderson recalled at England's training camp at Bagshot this week. "I remember clearly what Keith said. He said: 'Pat, just concentrate on the things that you can do something about. There's no point worrying about things that you can't control.' I've tried to heed that advice ever since."

Sanderson is too level-headed to dwell on what might have been, but he recognises that his earlier failure to live his rugby life by Wood's maxim may have contributed to the stop-start nature of his England career.

His debut came on the 1998 "Tour of Hell". Although the games he played in ended in 64-22 and 40-10 defeats by the All Blacks and an 18-0 reverse in South Africa, he was one of the few to emerge with credit.

"When I came back from that tour I think I may have lost sight of things a bit," Sanderson said. "I started to worry about whether I would or wouldn't get picked in the future and that deflected my focus. I was more worried about getting selected than I was about my own performance.

"There are an awful lot of good players in this country and who am I to say that I should be in the England side? It's my job to play the best that I can and hope that's good enough."

Sanderson has not given a moment's thought to what might happen once Joe Worsley is fit again, the Wasps man's injury having given him his chance. After all, Sanderson is the man in possession and if he can build on last week's display he might avoid his fate under Clive Woodward, who used him as a replacement three times in 2001 but never called on him again.

A switch to Worcester from Harlequins last year might not have seemed the best move, but his new club's fight against relegation last season, and the fall of his former colleagues, proved he made the right choice.

Confirmation of the wisdom of the move comes with Sanderson's place in this afternoon's England team. "These are the days that you live for, to go out there and play matches against top-quality opposition," he said. "New Zealand are the best in the world at the moment. You relish the chance to test yourself against opposition like that."