Tindall: Lamb can be the Carter of England

Young stand-off may yet rival an All Black genius
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The Independent Online

The topic of conversation with Mike Tindall at Gloucester's training ground is the flowering of youth, specifically the club's 19-year-old fly-half, Ryan Lamb. "The only thing Lamby needs to learn is balance," says Tindall. "Once he's got that balance to his game I think there's only Dan Carter up there who could touch him." If there had not been an industrial-strength lawn mower at work nearby you could have heard a pin drop.

Blimey, Mike, high praise indeed, although you know your grass-clippings, having played with Jonny Wilkinson through from England Under-18 level to winning the World Cup in 2003. Nevertheless, to compare Lamb with Carter - golden boy of the All Blacks and scourge of the Lions...

"Yeah, I'd back Ryan to the hilt, because he's something special. I think it's disappointing he's not on one of the bigger [England] tours this summer, I don't understand who's playing better at 10." You don't see any need to shelter Lamb at this age? "No. He's a talent that's not going to go away for a long time and I think he could take English rugby forward."

As it happens Lamb will be wearing an England jersey in June, but in the Under-21 World Cup in France. First he must conclude the season at home, which means today's European Challenge Cup final for Gloucester against London Irish. He and the four or five others in Kingsholm's new-found-fame academy - including the 19-year-old inside centre Anthony Allen - are being withheld from media interviews by Dean Ryan, the director of rugby. It's the protective treatment once given to Ryan Giggs at Manchester United. But Tindall, at a suddenly venerable 27, can wax lyrical, and does so unreservedly.

"Lamby wasn't in the fold at all, really, at the start of the season. The way he's played for England Under-21s and Gloucester in the A League, he earned his place starting the last few matches and he has excelled. He still makes a couple of mistakes but just through loving to play and you can't criticise that. We've already said to him and the other young guys that they're not going to have their one, two, three years getting experience sitting on the bench, learning that way."

Ryan the coach has chosen to take Ryan the fly-half off early in each match, to the point of perversity in the final Premiership fixture against Wasps when victory and a play-off place were within Gloucester's grasp. Is that a particular policy? "No, that's Dean," says Tindall. "You don't question the gaffer."

The tale Tindall is telling is of a quite unexpected surge in Gloucester's form, coinciding with Henry Paul the errant centre being dropped for missing training (and subsequently offloaded back to rugby league) and the stalwart fly-half Ludo Mercier consigned to the bench. James Bailey, Mark Foster and Olly Morgan are among the young bucks in the backs to have had extended runs.

"It's inspirational for me," says Tindall. "They haven't been through the mill, they just want to enjoy themselves, and it freshens you up. And you've got to live with them, which is not easy when the bones are getting a bit older. Having said that, I'm not nearly as old as Catty!"

Ah, yes, "Catty" - Mike Catt, the London Irish playmaker just recalled to the England squad for Australia. He and Tindall shared duties for the common good in the World Cup, though they won't be together on the return to Oz, as Tindall is resting. "I've played 30 matches and that's enough."

In any case, he was dropped by England for their last match in March, having started the previous seven in the unfamiliar and arguably unsuitable inside centre position. The club used him there too until the emergence of Allen allowed Tindall to revert to outside centre with James Simpson-Daniel's flourishes brought to bear on the wing. Where others might complain, Tindall is stoical. "I want to challenge myself and improve my game which means I'm making a few more mistakes," he says.

Catt left Bath in 2004; Tindall followed last summer. Catt winding down a career while, after 18 months of injuries, perhaps "Tins" ain't what he used to be? No way. Bath have struggled in the league while London Irish and Gloucester probably reached their utmost potential, with Lamb's flat passes and raking kicks a feature for the latter. Tindall, however, insists neither of today's teams can "take anything from the season" if they lose.

Then he will be free for that other "season", the one frequented by his girlfriend Zara Phillips. What will it be, Mike: Henley, Wimbledon, Ascot...? His eyebrows arch above the familiar bent nose. "Henley? Oh God, no. But I fancy Ascot. And then there's her horse trials" - that'll be "her outdoors", you understand - "although when she has got five horses on the go at one of these events I don't see much of her." We will, though, be seeing a lot more of Gloucester - and of Mike Tindall.