Will the wit is key to new England

Six Nations: Winning with a smile is the Greenwood way as a centre of rare excellence finds his place in the world
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The Independent Online

At the interval of the opus against Ireland at Twickenham, by which time England had scored four tries in 20 minutes, Will Greenwood was looking ahead. However, it was not so much to the second half, more a club match against Gloucester in seven days time. "I went for a pee and found myself standing next to Phil Vickery. I told him that if he gave it everything after the break he could have the next weekend off."

Greenwood was referring to yesterday's Premiership match between his club, Harlequins, and Vickery's Gloucester. "I got a little smile out of him," Greenwood said. The centre is very good at that. "I like to think we've got the serious performers at 9 and 10 and some serious smilers at 11, 12, 13, 14 and the legend at 15." In sequence he is talking about Kyran Bracken and Jonny Wilkinson followed by Ben Cohen, Mike Tindall, himself, Austin Healey and Jason Robinson.

"It's a good combination with a lot of different characters in the back line. People ask why Austin and I are always laughing. We're top mates, we're scoring tries, we're enjoying ourselves and I don't see how it gets a lot better than that."

Before the start of the Six Nations Clive Woodward had said that breaking down defences would be England's biggest challenge. He preferred the centre partnership of Greenwood and Tindall (Mike Catt has since decided to have an operation to repair a torn shoulder tendon) and the result was four tries against Scotland, six against Ireland. France are going to have to do a lot of tackling in Paris next Saturday for the pattern to be disrupted.

Against the Irish, England completed 174 passes against 88 and passed to the wings 22 times against three. They won the ball in open play 72 to 39 and won nine mauls to nil and 22 line-outs to seven. They made 56 tackles to 101, missing one while Ireland missed 42. The leading ball carrier was Greenwood with 27, one ahead of Wilkinson. "I didn't realise I was so greedy," Greenwood said, "but I love playing with the ball in hand." Good Will hunting.

At 6ft 3in and 15st his craftsmanship, strength, guile and ability to deliver a perfect pass in the tackle makes him exceedingly dangerous. Against the Scots he was the creator-in-chief and against Ireland he scored two tries, taking his total to 15 in his last 19 internationals. He was England's leading try scorer in the last Six Nations with six, including a hat-trick against Wales in Cardiff. "It's a lovely feeling," he said, "but I get as much satisfaction out of putting somebody into a gap with a line-breaking pass. I remember my off-load in a tackle at Murrayfield more than running in two tries against Ireland."

That's debatable. Greenwood is unlikely to forget his second, and England's sixth, try at Twickenham eight days ago, the one where Healey had only Girvan Dempsey to beat. "Austin was smiling because he knew he had to pass to me but didn't want to. He looked left, he looked right, he looked behind him and even thought about chipping it but there was only one ball and that was to his old bloody housemate. He's got 18 caps more than me and shouldn't be behind me in the try count."

The two played against each other in 1989, Greenwood for Lancashire schools, Healey for Cheshire. "He pretends to be posh but he's a Scouser," Greenwood said. They teamed up at Waterloo and again at Leicester where they shared a house. In 1997 Healey hid the letter informing Greenwood of his selection for the Lions tour to South Africa. "I heard the news on TV and then Austin produced the letter from a drawer. I was too happy to hit him."

Greenwood seems destined to have graduated from Lancashire's red rose to the England variety. His father Dick, a back row forward, was the England coach between 1983-85 and was, and still is, a big influence on his son's career.

At 17, Will, who was born in Blackburn, joined Preston Grasshoppers while still at school and father and son appeared together. "I should have been playing for the colts but my father insisted I turned out for the fourth team so I'd learn how to look after myself. The custom was to have a schooner of sherry before a match so I was pissed running on to the field. One day I got hit by a fly-half and the old man, at the age of 49 and all taped up, ran after him and stuck two fingers up the poor fellow's nostrils."

Will describes Dick as his "greatest critic and biggest fan". "He provides me with a total break-down of every performance," Will said, "and he marks every touch, every tackle, every pass with a tick or a cross. We're trying for 100 per cent."

The closest was 94 per cent for the Lions in South Africa but then he was spear-tackled into the rock-hard ground in Bloemfontein and there were fears for his life. "I woke up in my kit in hospital and thought I was dreaming. I told them my shoulder was killing me but they thought I was delusional. All they were worried about was my head."

No Lions cap for the head on that tour nor in Australia last year, when he suffered an ankle injury. "The word unlucky doesn't go with being a double Lions tourist. It's been a great experience, although not playing in the First Test in Brisbane was my biggest disappointment. I'll never know whether I'd have been picked but that was one of the best Lions' Tests of all time. If you can cope with that you can cope with most things. People have been unluckier than me with injuries."

Had he played he'd have partnered his room-mate in Australia, Brian O'Driscoll. "Austin was a nightmare to live with but O'Driscoll was even more disgraceful," Greenwood said. "I can't possibly tell you the things he did."

After England's 45-11 win over Ireland, the two exchanged their No 13 jerseys and shared a few beers later than night. "We talk about anything but rugby. We did the same thing in Dublin after Ireland had beaten us in October."

The next morning Greenwood flew to Newcastle where he was commentating on the FA Cup match with Manchester City for Radio Five Live. A City fan, Greenwood was working alongside Chris Waddle. "He's one of my boyhood heroes, a bloody legend and to sit next to him talking about football was an absolute privilege. Unfortunately when Huckerby nearly scored I shot out of my seat and broke the headphones."

All in all a memorable weekend for Greenwood and by Monday morning the 29-year-old was feeling the pace. A visit to the RFU's nutritionist in London told him he had lost two kilos in weight. "I was feeling tired and the problem was dehydration. I'm fighting to maintain my weight and you have to watch what you eat. I'm an old school Lancastrian who likes a beer, but nowadays they make you feel guilty for picking up the takeaway phone. Clive likes specialist coaches and the nutritionist is our food coach. You don't put diesel in a Ferrari, not that I'm comparing myself to a Ferrari."

Greenwood is refuelling from a huge bottle of five-star mineral water and purring, almost like a sports car. More Ferrari than Austin Healey.

Mighty white The try that raised the roof

After 22 minutes at Twickenham last Saturday the score was England 3, Ireland 3. Then Jonny Wilkinson scored a try and as England regrouped, waiting for the re-start, Will Greenwood made the call.

"Don't kick to touch, let's go straight back at them," he said. "The others said 'fine, let's do it'. That's the pleasure of playing with these guys. Not one of them said 'I don't think it's the right time.' If it's on it's always the right time. Ireland kicked long and Austin Healey gathered the ball near his 22. He set off down the middle and made a lot of ground before passing inside to Kyran Bracken. Kyran also beat a couple of defenders, switched play to the right and found Mike Tindall in open space. His work-rate is phenomenal. He knew he wasn't going to make the line from about 55 yards but he bought time for other players to keep the move alive. Richard Hill and Joe Worsley handled like threequarters and although Denis Hickie put in his customary tackle, the passing was too sharp.

"Worsley off-loaded one-handed to Ben Cohen who was cutting in from the right at full pace and he was unstoppable. The crowd went wild. I had tracked Austin on the left and after play had moved to the right I stayed left in case it was recycled."

After 24 minutes England were 17-3 ahead. It was one of the few moves that Greenwood and Wilkinson were not directly involved in. "Jonny's frightening," Greenwood said. "After 78 minutes he noticed Charlie Hodgson warming up and said 'that had better bloody not be for me'. Actually Jonny never swears. I told him to relax and enjoy the little rest. He'd certainly bloody deserved it. I just about got a smile out of him as he was leaving the field."

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