Tait keeps those dazzling feet firmly grounded

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The Independent Online

Mathew Tait is leaning against a barrier at pitch-side in the Telstra Dome, clutching some reading matter, though not the programme for the Commonwealth Games rugby sevens, a copy of which lies on the grass nearby. "Loving the action and atmosphere of world-class rugby?" an advert on page 36 enquires. "Be part of it again at Telstra Dome when the Wallabies take on arch rivals and current world champions, England, on 17 June."

On the strength of the evidence here on Thursday and Friday, Tait will surely be part of the action when England's 15-a-side team roll into town this summer. New Zealand took the winner's medals from the Commonwealth sevens, but England's young centre was the undisputed golden boy. As Gordon Tietjens, coach of the victorious Kiwis, observed: "He's got that X-factor. He's a real game-breaker."

Tait is that, as he showed with the jinking run that broke through the Samoan defence and salvaged victory six seconds from the hooter in the quarter-final. Then there was the wonderful long-range-strike in the semi-final against Fiji - and the truly stunning score from 80 metres in the 29-21 defeat against Tietjens' team in the final.

The young man from south-west Durham is blessed with a curiously deceptive, round-shouldered, rolling gait. He never seems get into a galloping stride - just glides along, as if borne on castors. High-speed castors.

With his table-topping nine tries here, Tait has certainly picked up momentum he lost when he was shunted back into the international sidings by Gavin Henson on the eve of his 19th birthday in February last year.

"It's just one of those things," he says, shrugging those shoulders when asked to reflect on his painful England baptism in Cardiff. "I hope I won't be forever remembered for that, but I just get on with it. It's not really crossed my mind that England are playing here in the summer. I've just been focused on being with the sevens squad, and on playing well for Newcastle. The rest can take care of itself."

It has taken 13 months, but it is clear from Tait's impressively sanguine, highly mature demeanour that those juddering hits from Henson have been definitively brushed aside. It is clear, too, that the staff at Kingston Park have helped the fledgling Falcon recover from the clipping of his wings - not just Rob Andrew but also Steve Black and Bob Morton, whose titles as strength and conditioning coaches do not do full justice to the roles they perform for the Tyneside club.

It was Black, a master in the subtle arts of motivation, who nudged Tait in the direction of the book he was clutching in the Telstra Dome. "It's by the same author as a book that Blackie gave me called The Tipping Point, by this guy called Malcolm Gladwell," Tait explains. "This is his second one, Blink. It's about subconscious decision making, instinctive sort of stuff. It's quite interesting."

The second Gladwell book explores "the two seconds it takes your mind to reach a series of conclusions", as the author himself puts it. "It's about honing your instinctive ability. A snap decision can be far more effective than one made deliberately or cautiously."

Like what to do when a big spiky-haired Welshman suddenly appears in front of you, perma-tanned with the luminosity to dazzle. Or when you have a blank England team-sheet in front of you at the start of a Six Nations two-and-a-half years ahead of a World Cup.

Andy Robinson is expected to watch England's dazzling sevens star in Hong Kong next week but has not, it transpires, spoken to Tait in the prolonged wake of that Millennium experience. "I haven't heard from any of the England guys," Tait says, without the slightest trace of rancour, simply providing an answer to a question. So has the sound of silence disappointed him? "It's not really crossed my mind," Tait insists. "I just want to play well for Newcastle. There's guys playing better than I am at the moment."

Not here, though, where the cast included Lote Tuqiri, Chris Latham and Matt Giteau. Blink and you would have missed the maturing, 20-year-old Falcon in fully impressive flight.

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