Scotland v England: Sheridan props up all England's hopes

The massive front-rower shoulders the burden as he becomes pivotal to Red Rose ambitions. By Tim Glover
Click to follow
The Independent Online

It was almost written in tablets of stone. If Jonny Wilkinson was up and running, all would be well with England. It is now getting that way with Andrew Sheridan. If the world's strongest prop is in the front row, the Red Rose cause is in good hands.

Last week, when Sheridan – a gentle giant off the field – was in harness with Phil Vickery, the French scrum buckled at Stade de France. It was a similar story in the quarter-final of the World Cup, when Australia's front row was sent packing.

"We put a lot of work into that," Sheridan said. "We had a good look at the Wallabies and their scrum had been going pretty well so we didn't think it was going to be easy. Both Phil and I got penalised, but we didn't understand the decisions. So many scrums had to be reset and the referee had to decide one way or the other. We felt we were together and we knew if we kept them off the ground we would gain dominance."

The Wallabies wilted as Sheridan's reputation as one of the most destructive scrummagers in the game was enhanced. At his club, Sale, they call him "Sherry". At 6ft 4in and 19st 2lb, he is an extra-large Sherry. Famously, one of his passions is for pumping iron in the gym, and his bench-press mark is 210kg, or 465lb. People stand and watch.

Aside from the fact that he is a gym junkie, some of this extraordinary strength and power must be in the genes. His father, Dan, who used to be a regulator on the London Stock Exchange, was a useful athlete, but it seems that his grandfather Richard was the role model.

"When he was in the Army he excelled at the long jump, high jump, shot put and the sprints. My grandad could run 100 yards in 10 seconds. He was also into boxing and hockey," says Sheridan, who admits: "I think I inherited some of his strength but not necessarily his speed."

Yet when he gets going, Sheridan is no slouch. In his final season at Dulwich College, he scored 22 tries. Now, of course, he is a different animal. From Dulwich he joined Richmond when the London club were a Premiership outfit before they went into administration, and played half-a-dozen games for them in the back row. He moved to Bristol, and in his final season there made the almost miraculous conversion from lock forward to prop. The rest is folklore.

"It suited me," he says. "It was the right decision. The line-out has progressed and there's a lot more science behind it. I don't mind lifting people to catch the ball but I don't have a massive passion for line-outs."

No, his passion is for locking horns with tighthead props and giving them 80 minutes or so of grief. In Paris last weekend he saw off Nicolas Mas, then engaged with Jean-Baptiste Poux. "We felt we had the momentum," Sheridan said. "It took a few scrums but we felt we were getting on top.

"Mas and Poux were penalised for boring or trying to bring the scrum down. They got their angles wrong. There is an element of head-to-head and for those few seconds the concentration is intense, but the scrum is a collective thing. Power comes from the back row and the second row, and all eight put in a big effort."

After England's impressive late-night victory in Paris – they are back in the hunt in the Six Nations' Championship, and next up is Scotland in Edinburgh – Sheridan returned to the team hotel at 2am, and five hours later he was in what they call a "recovery session". At the post-match dinner, he congratulated one clubmate, Richard Wigglesworth, a try-scorer, and commiserated with another, the Sale and France prop Lionel Faure.

"I get on very well with Lionel.We had a good chat about Sale's victory at Leicester." Um, anything else? Mark Regan, naturellement. The England hooker was singled out for scathing criticism from the French coach, Marc Lièvremont. "Lièvremont was unhappy about the time Mark was taking to throw the ball into the line-out. There was nothing underhand about it. The noise was incredible and we wanted to make sure everyone was totally clear about the call. I think it was a bit harsh to call Mark a clown."

Sheridan is not immovable. Harlequins, for one, have found a way of undermining him, their smaller props burrowing low and giving him no room to generate power. He is also prone to infections and insect bites, and an immunologist has advised him to shower with surgical spirit. "He was quite passionate about bacteria and bugs. I've got to be fastidious about cleanliness and also watch against over-training. If you push it too far you can run yourself down."

Sheridan's recipe for being on top of his game? Breakfast: porridge, protein shake, fruit juice; lunch: soup, chicken or fish, rice, salad and fruit; dinner: fish or meat, vegetables, pasta, fruit and yoghurt. No potatoes and no six-pack. His Welsh wife, Siwan, should introduce him to laver bread. Sherry, however, is not immune. Driving back to Manchester last Sunday evening, he stopped off for burger and chips. For 19st 2lb, read 19st 3lb.

England face Scotland in the Calcutta Cup next Saturday, BBC1, kick-off 3.15pm