Sheridan finds the growing difficult

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The Independent Online

While it would be grossly unfair to point the finger at such a complex sort as Andrew Sheridan and so label him the living embodiment of English rugby's "all brawn, little brain" problem, it is also mighty tempting. For as Scotland proved yesterday, picking on the biggest really can be the best policy.

Yes, they ultimately won this match with their tenacious loose play and with a gutsy defensive game that gave new tangibles to physical endeavour, but tellingly Frank Hadden's men also held their own against the mighty Red Rose scrum. "Hold up Sheridan, hold up England"; so the mantra is starting to have it.

The giant prop is beginning to look representative of Andy Robinson's dilemma; so much power, but how the hell to use it? While the 19-stoner did produce some big hits around the fringes, his limited impact in the scrum ultimately only added fuel to the ire of his critics.

Whatever the England hierarchy still might claim he brings to the party, the 27-year-old is nowhere near the world-beater they welcomed him as when he single-handedly crushed the Australian front row in the autumn. Perhaps Graham Price was spot on that day in calling that Wallabies unit "the weakest in a Test I can ever remember".

The legendary Welsh Lion has certainly stuck to his loaded guns ever since and has been seen laughing himself silly whenever it has been put to him that Sheridan would have been a match for his Pontypool front row. Pricey has simply paid reference to "Big Ted's" performances against Wales's Adam Jones and Italy's Carlos Nieto in this Six Nations, and then asked whether he could ever be worthy of the "Viet Gwent's" motto: "We may go up, we may go down, but we never go back".

Against both, the Sale Shark was forced to do the latter once or twice and Price had some advice for the Scot packing down against him. "Let Sheridan dominate you and he'll eat you alive," said the titanic tight-head. "But turn him, twist him and take him down and he has no answer."

The words must have rung louder in Bruce Douglas's cauliflower ears than the referee's rollicking that threatened to bring yellow in the 37th minute when he was accused of going in at an angle at the scrummage as Sheridan and Co laid siege to his line. "Me ref?" said his aghast expression. "Why would I possibly do that against someone six inches taller and almost a stone and a half heavier?"

Douglas survived that particular retreat, as more importantly did Scotland, and when Sheridan hobbled off a few moments later, covered in blood, this was not an insignificant little victory for the Borders man. Sure, Sheridan was to appear all stitched up after the break, but by then at least Scotland were sure of a secure platform on their own put-in and of not going too rapidly into reverse on England's. And against lighter opposition such as this, Sheridan was designed to seek and destroy.

Not to say that he or his colleagues were ever sent scurrying backwards. There is not a scrum in this world capable of doing that to this pack with any sort of consistency. But England fans are surely justified in expecting more from someone with such a huge billing.

If that is cruel to Sheridan then that's because it can be a cruel place where he must crouch. And in conceding the first penalty to Scotland with a numbskull piece of offside, he gave away three points and allowed Edinburgh to believe - as early as the second minute. Perhaps, it wasn't the biggest crime but it surely set the tone. And, as a keen guitarist, Sheridan should know the importance of that.