Titterrell Sir Clive's hidden ace in the pack

Woodward's call to an English understudy stunned the man himself and left the Welsh open-mouthed
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From Sir Clive Woodward, the news for England, who were fourth in the Six Nations and who supply a minimum of 20 players to the Lions party, was twice as good as for Wales, the Grand Slam champions, who have 10 men on the tour to New Zealand.

From Sir Clive Woodward, the news for England, who were fourth in the Six Nations and who supply a minimum of 20 players to the Lions party, was twice as good as for Wales, the Grand Slam champions, who have 10 men on the tour to New Zealand.

For Scotland, with just three representatives, it was positively insulting, but then they really should not have sung the Marseillaise on the plane home from Australia as England were about to play France in the semi-finals of the World Cup.

However, as Sir Clive pointed out last week, this is no time for tribal differences. "In my mind," he said, "the players cease to be English, Scottish, Welsh or Irish. They are Lions." He added - bizarrely - that had the tourists been playing a Test next week instead of in 10 weeks' time, the team would contain only two Englishmen and one Scot. Presumably Simon Taylor was the man from north of the border, but what most people wanted to know was the identity of the English two.

No club endured the good news, bad news routine more acutely than Sale. On the one hand, immense pride in Jason Robinson, Charlie Hodgson, Andy Sheridan and Andy Titterrell; on the other, disbelief at the omissions of Mark Cueto and Jason White.

"We told them how sorry we were and left it at that," Titterrell said of his clubmates who didn't make it. "It was difficult to approach them, difficult to find the right thing to say. Mark has scored eight tries in eight Tests, and he's been a leading try-scorer for the last three seasons. Jason is a real powerhouse. We thought they would both be in. It was a massive shock."

Almost as massive as the selection of Sheridan and Titterrell, a loosehead prop and a hooker who between them have won five caps. "To say I was surprised is an understatement," Titterrell said. "To be honest I didn't give the Lions a second thought. Clive had told me that he would be looking at others during the Six Nations. As I only came on as a replacement for England against Italy and Scotland, I dismissed the tour altogether. I thought Mefin Davies would get in. As the Six Nations went on he got stronger and stronger. It's a brilliant surprise."

The squad of 44 were going to be told last Sunday but, fearing a leak, it was decided that only the captain, Brian O'Driscoll, would be informed before the announcement to the media on Monday lunch-time. "The players had been told to check their phones for text messages, but nobody had received anything," Titterrell said. "Everybody was thinking the worst. I was practising my line-out throws when I got a congratulatory message from a friend, but I thought it was a joke. There was a long wait before the news came through officially. It was a horrible way to find out."

Last night Titterrell celebrated by treating James Wade to dinner. "It's the least I could do," Titterrell said. "James refuses to take any recognition for my success." Wade runs the Sale Jets, the junior side, whose graduates include Cueto and Hodgson.

Titterrell, who was born in Dartford, Kent, played for Sevenoaks School and the Sevenoaks club before joining Saracens. "I couldn't get a look-in. I played a couple of second-team matches and that was it. I had no opportunity to play, let alone get a contract."

Waterloo took him on part-time for three months, and five years ago, when he was 19, Wade signed him for Sale, where he began his Harrier-like take-off with the Jets.

"All my friends and family were down south, so this was not something that I had planned, but really the decision was made for me," Titterrell said. "I had to take the plunge and it's worked out brilliantly. I love it up here. It's a friendly club in a lovely area. I have one minor niggle - it never stops raining, which makes line-out practice difficult."

Titterrell may have been one of Woodward's left-field selections for the Lions, but he has been highly rated for years, gaining a string of representative honours before playing a part in England's World Cup build-up. He won his first cap against New Zealand in Auckland last June, coming off the bench in the second half to replace Steve Thompson.

"I relished every second," he said. "I thought I would feel out of place or overwhelmed by the occasion, but I wasn't. I felt very comfortable. My preparation had been spot-on. I was like an excited youngster and I think I emerged a stronger player. We were playing against the best in the world in front of a very hostile crowd. It doesn't get much bigger than that."

Except, of course, a Lions series against the All Blacks. With Thompson, Shane Byrne and Gordon Bulloch, Titterrell is one of four hookers, and at 24 is easily the youngest and probably the fastest - Sale sometimes play him at flanker. He has no intention of taking a back seat this summer.

"Most people will regard Thommo as the Test hooker," Titterrell said. "I get on very well with him, there's good banter between us and I respect him, but I would love to take his place. We are very different players, and I just hope to get a chance to express myself.

"I will play as hard as I can and grab it with both hands. I am sure Andy [Sheridan] feels the same way. It would be nice to have his company in the front row. Since being converted from lock he's improved out of all recognition. He can play both sides of the scrum and is one of the strongest props I've ever played with.

"He hates taking a backward step, and when he's going forward he doesn't stop. It's going to be interesting."

Thompson's Achilles heel is his line-out throwing, which sometimes disappears off the radar, but Titterrell thinks that England's first choice is hard done by.

"If a line-out goes wrong, everybody thinks the hooker has messed up, but it's not necessarily the case. There could be obstruction or the jumper has got his timing wrong.

"I aim for perfection, trying to hit the target at the very top of the throw, and Thommo does the same. I know how hard he works with Simon Hardy [England's line-out coach], and he doesn't let the criticism affect him. He's a strong character. Regardless of throwing ability, he knows that I am after his job."

Tomorrow the Lions have a get-together at the Vale of Glamorgan Golf and Country Club, Wales's training base. "The idea is for everybody to get to know one another and set a few tour goals," Titterrell said. "Every season I set myself targets which I cross off as I achieve them."

The Lions tour to New Zealand is a late addition to his list, but the Sale hooker already knows what to aim for.

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