Tim Glover: Paul puts walk-off part in past

Embarrassing Twickenham substitution is history - the future is today
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Henry Paul has already received a couple of good-luck messages from Sir Clive Woodward who, in his capacity as head coach of the Lions for their tour to New Zealand in the summer, has been one of the Post Office's best customers.

Henry Paul has already received a couple of good-luck messages from Sir Clive Woodward who, in his capacity as head coach of the Lions for their tour to New Zealand in the summer, has been one of the Post Office's best customers.

"It's a nice thought but I am not getting too carried away,'' Paul said. "Most of the players I have spoken to have received a card from Clive.''

As Paul was born in Tokorua and played rugby league for New Zealand, the prospect of representing the Lions in his home country has not slipped beneath his radar. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,'' Paul said. "It's a massive goal which can only be achieved by playing well for England, and that can only be achieved by producing the goods for Gloucester. I have a lot of steps to make.''

None bigger than this after-noon's blockbuster against Stade Français at Kingsholm, the denouement of Gloucester's Heineken Cup adventures in Pool Six. To qualify for the quarter-finals the Cherry and Whites need an extraordinary performance.

With 19 points from four victories, including a win over Gloucester in Paris, Stade are five points clear of the West Country club, who today are looking to score four tries, which would earn them a bonus point, while ensuring the French champions are sufficiently adrift not to get a bonus point for losing by seven points or less.

"Our backs are to the wall,'' Paul said. Although he might have added that they were also standing on a narrow ledge while staring into the abyss. "It's our destiny. We've got to play some rugby and give it a go. The thing is to be patient and build phases. We know we can create chances but we don't have to be reckless. It should be entertaining.''

If Gloucester get maximum points and draw level with Stade, tries and then points difference from the two matches played between the clubs will decide qualification. Stade lead 5-3 on tries after Gloucester, with criminal neglect, failed to pick up a bonus point in Paris.

"Sometimes we're our own worst enemies,'' Paul added. "We scored three tries but made silly errors in throwing away another three. This time we'll have to take every chance, make sure we win the game and worry about the maths afterwards. The big difference is that we are at home, and anything's possible at Kingsholm.''

Gloucester have a unique insight into how water can be converted into a conqueror's dream. Two years ago almost to the day they stood transfixed in Limerick as Munster, needing four tries and a winning points margin of 27, beat Gloucester, then the Premiership leaders, 33-6 and qualified for the quarter-finals on points difference.

That day Paul played at full-back, none too convincingly, and was substituted in the 61st minute. He has since, of course, become a cause célèbre in the business of being replaced. After his high-profile, big-money move from the rugby league side Bradford Bulls to union in 2001, he made his first start in an England jersey against Canada at Twickenham last November. The following week, against South Africa, he was taken off in the 71st minute having helped England to an unassailable lead, but then came the lowest point in his career.

After only 24 minutes of the Test against Australia, Andy Robinson pulled Paul off. England went on to lose Charlie Hodgson, their stand-off and goal-kicker, to injury and the match 21-19. It was a crushing moment for a player who seems to have as many detractors as supporters. Some say he has sublime gifts. I say I have yet to see them. Either way, it was no way to treat a centre.

"It was really frustrating,'' Paul admitted. "They told me I had dropped a pass and lost another ball in a turnover and that a change was needed. Later they said they should have left me on, which didn't help. I thought my contribution had been good enough to stay on. The plan had been for me to play a wider game and try to use our back three as runners. I put Jason Robinson away once, but perhaps I got the instructions from Robbo [Andy Robinson] mixed up. If you play a wider game you're going to make mistakes.

"It wasn't as if Australia were dominating or the game was over. We were camped in their half, so I was a bit surprised to get the call. I still scratch my head when I think about it. I was the back-up goal-kicker and reserve fly-half. It was weird. With the game only a quarter of the way through I would have appreciated a message telling me to pull my socks up or else. That always helps.

"I can't worry about what happened. The decision was made, I accepted it and England have my 100 per cent support. I have got to show those guys that I can create chances and be consistent, for myself and Gloucester.''

Paul, who will be 31 next month, was named last week in England's élite squad, who will spend the next three days training at Headingley and working alongside the Leeds Rhinos, the Super League champions.

"It will be an interesting experiment,'' Paul said. "I have played with a few of the Rhinos. We have similar skills but we can learn from a lot of sports, not just rugby league. A change of environment should be good for us. A lot of the England guys are injured, so I might be in with a chance in the Six Nations.''

Paul's four-year contract with Gloucester was extended by two seasons, which means he will have spent longer in the West Country than he did at Wigan. "I still see it as a challenge and every week I test myself, but it is also a lot of fun. Gloucester are close to getting it right.''

Just how close will be demonstrated today. Gloucester have Duncan McRae back at stand-off but are without James Simpson-Daniel, who scored two tries in Paris. Most eyes will be on two men: the referee, Nigel Williams - and Paul.