Wasps raise Voyce to new high

Heineken Cup final: Hard work and a switch of clubs see a reborn finisher reaping rewards for club and country
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The Independent Online

For Tom Voyce, who long ago crossed the Tamar to broaden his horizons, the Golden Gate Bridge was meant to provide a symbolic key to international rugby. A high-flyer at Bath, his form was rewarded three years ago with a North American adventure. It lasted about 10 minutes, short-changing by five Andy Warhol's take on fame and the individual.

For Tom Voyce, who long ago crossed the Tamar to broaden his horizons, the Golden Gate Bridge was meant to provide a symbolic key to international rugby. A high-flyer at Bath, his form was rewarded three years ago with a North American adventure. It lasted about 10 minutes, short-changing by five Andy Warhol's take on fame and the individual.

On his Test debut for England against the United States in San Francisco, Voyce appeared as a late replacement. "I took an inside pass from Olly and only had the full-back to beat," he says. "I was disappointed I didn't score.'' Olly is Olly Barkley, another Bath youngster who was also winning his first cap in California.

And then the trail went cold. A one-cap wonder? Voyce began to wonder, particularly when his career at Bath suddenly stalled. "I told my agent that the club were not going to renew my contract, and he put a few feelers out.''

Warren Gatland, the Wasps coach, was sent a video, something along the lines of Voyce's Golden Hits, and 12 months ago the wing was offered a two-year contract. The move has worked a treat. Last week the Voyce from the wilderness was named in the England party for next month's tour of New Zealand and Australia, recognition of a rich seam of form which has coincided with Wasps again being involved in the end-of-season showpieces.

This afternoon they tackle Toulouse in the final of the Heineken Cup at Twickenham, and next Saturday Voyce will be reacquainted with Bath at the same venue in the final of the Zurich Premiership. "When I joined Wasps I was looking to ignite my career and play some good rugby,'' Voyce says. "If you told me this was going to happen I would never have believed it, no way. It's been absolutely sensational.''

What has happened to him since leaving the West Country says more about Wasps than Bath, although Voyce is nothing if not diplomatic. "It was a bad situation at Bath for two years,'' he said, referring to their alarming decline which almost resulted in relegation, the fall following and preceding the rise. "I learned a lot from that.''

But he learned more at Wasps. "The minute I walked in I met Rob Howley and realised the extra effort that was going to be required. There was a 40-minute weights session of full intensity. I thought, 'God, I've got to wake up to all this'. The first thing that struck me was the professionalism.''

The second thing that struck him was that he would need a new wardrobe. In a regime that owes nothing to Atkins, Voyce's weight rose from 87kg to 93kg, and he won't rest until he reaches 100kg. "Wasps took hold of me and said, 'This is what you're going to do'. The crucial start was in changing my physique. I'm feeling stronger and more confident. I wasn't as sharp as I should have been. Footwork drills have had me concentrating on my first three strides, which is something I'd never thought of. My speed off the mark has increased and it's given me a couple of seconds extra, which is very important. I had my highs at Bath but I needed something more. I was relying on basic talent and I didn't understand that wasn't enough for me to stay in the game.''

Bigger and faster, Voyce's finishing of late has been deadly. When Munster were threatening mayhem in the semi-final of the Heineken Cup, it was Voyce who silenced Lansdowne Road with a solo intervention. "That was the best game I've ever played in. My family still get sweaty palms when they look at the video.''

Voyce produced an even more spectacular try in the Premiership semi-final against Northampton last Sunday. If Clive Woodward had any doubts about picking him for the southern-hemisphere tour, they were soon dispelled. From about halfway Voyce cut inside, went outside, hugged the touchline and survived Ben Cohen's tackle and the verdict of the TV official.

"I never used to take people on the outside. To avoid running into touch you have to pretend the touchline is a cliff face. When I put the ball down I couldn't understand why the referee called for a replay, although I had to dive pretty quickly. It was quite an amazing feeling... God, did I just do that?''

Supervising Voyce's reaffirmation in London has been Shaun Edwards, Gatland's right-hand man. "He didn't seem happy when he joined us, but his progress has been remarkable,'' Edwards says. "He's played in nearly every game and his contribution has been vital. We have got players who we were warned not to touch, but if you create the right environment you can get the best out of them. Tom can play anywhere in the back three, so he should be a perfect tourist for England.''

Voyce has received a few congratulatory phone calls from the Bath coaching staff, despite the impression he was treated as a Cornish Patsy. Only 23, he had been at the Recreation Ground for seven years. Born in Truro - his father is a paediatrician, his mother comes from farming stock - he learnt his rugby at King's College, Taunton and interrupted his studies at Cirencester Agriculture College to become a professional rugby player.

"There's a lot of talent in Cornwall but not many people see it,'' he says. One who did was Jon Callard before he too left Bath without receiving a Christmas card from the owner, Andrew Brownsword. Callard played at stand-off for Bath's second XV when a 15-year-old Voyce was at full-back. On Callard's recommendation, Andy Robinson, then the Bath coach, took an interest in Voyce's career. As Woodward's assistant, Robinson will do so again.

"After Callard left there was a new coaching team and I didn't fit into their plans,'' Voyce says. "I could see their point of view. Perhaps I was stuck in my ways. I was seen as a young kid who had come through the ranks and I was never going to lose that. To them I was an average player. They never saw me at my best.'' That can be rectified very quickly.

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