You could see him coming, even in a land this size. Simon Shaw, 6ft 9in and 18st-plenty, arrived in Queensland at just the right moment to miss training - he was delighted - and in good time to bid farewell to his great second-row rival Danny Grewcock, whose myriad injury problems have opened this door of opportunity. Timing has been one of Shaw's chief difficulties down the years; the decision to allow lifting at the line-out could not have happened at a more inopportune juncture from his heavyweight perspective. But yesterday he looked like a man whose hour had finally arrived.
"It's perfectly possible that I won't play a game, but I'm glad to be here anyway," he said, his cauliflower ears burning bright red with embarrassment as he talked his way through a one-man show in front of a hundred notepads and microphones. "I hadn't given up on continuing my international career - the thought never crossed my mind - but my failure to make the original 30-man squad came as a huge blow. I blanked it out as best I could, but when it came to watching on television, it was definitely a case of selective viewing. When England played their first match against Georgia, I couldn't bring myself to watch much of it."
Shaw has suffered his share of knock-backs since winning a first cap under Jack Rowell seven years ago. If a notoriously grisly ankle injury, sustained while playing a floodlit tour match for Bristol, made strong men cry - "I took one look at the state of him and felt sick," said Alan Sharp, the toughest of tough-guy props, at the time - his experience during the 1997 Lions series in South Africa would have been enough to make a parson swear with frustration. Shaw played superbly on that trip, but radical new rules covering the line-out left him at the mercy of lighter, more flexible locks like Jeremy Davidson, of Ireland.
The final blow to the competitive solar plexus was delivered in September, when Clive Woodward rang with a "not wanted on voyage" message. "I was moving house at the time, and I was driving a van-load of furniture from one place to another," he recalled. "The conversation was pretty brief - a couple of four-letter words, and that was that.
"Fortunately, I didn't suffer a bout of road rage," he continued. "I had never completely convinced myself that I'd make the cut for the World Cup and had an inkling Clive might take three specialist locks and use Martin Corry as back-up - but equally, I felt I'd done enough in the warm-up games to warrant a place. When I received the news, I didn't feel too good about things."
Woodward's latest call, following a check on Grewcock's busted hand after the victory over Uruguay on Sunday, was infinitely more welcome. "I was busy preparing for Wasps' Premiership game with Newcastle, so he left a message," Shaw said. "I'd never been in such a hurry to phone him back."
Woodward emphasised that the call-up was strictly precautionary, along the lines of the Martyn Wood business at the start of the tournament, when the Bath scrum-half flew to Australia as cover for Kyran Bracken, and then flew straight back home again. "Martyn sent me a text message, saying: 'Enjoy your world trip, it's not all it's cracked up to be,'" Shaw continued. "As it turns out, I'm staying."
Martin Johnson and Ben Kay, the Leicester pair, are certain to start the quarter-final with Wales at the Suncorp Stadium on Sunday, but Shaw has a decent chance of making the bench. Corry, who filled in for Johnson against the Uruguayans, is struggling with a hamstring injury and did not train yesterday. If he fails to recover, the newcomer will certainly feature in the match-day XXII.
Iain Balshaw, Ben Cohen and Paul Grayson also sat out the session, as did Richard Hill, whose allegedly minor hamstring problem looks increasingly major and may well result in another weekend of enforced inactivity. Two forwards, the loose-head prop, Trevor Woodman, and the open-side flanker, Neil Back, did play a full part, however, and are available to face the Welsh.
FRANCE (v Ireland, Melbourne, 07.30 Sunday): N Brusque (Biarritz); A Rougerie (Montferrand), T Marsh (Montferrand), Y Jauzion (Toulouse), C Dominici (Stade Français); F Michalak (Toulouse), F Galthié (Stade Français, capt); J-J Crenca (Agen), R Ibanez (Saracens), S Marconnet (Stade Français), F Pelous (Toulouse), J Thion (Biarritz), S Betsen (Biarritz), O Magne (Montferrand), I Harinordoquy (Pau).
Replacements: Y Bru (Toulouse), O Milloud (Bourgoin), O Brouzet (Montferrand), P Tabacco (Stade Français), G Merceron (Montferrand), B Liebenberg (Stade Français), P Elhorga (Agen).
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