World opens up for Bemand
Sunday 21 May 2006
England are taking three scrum-halves to Australia and not one of them is a household name, even in a rugby household. There's Nick Walshe, Peter Richards and then there's beam- me-up Scotty. Spectators had a rare chance to see Scott Bemand in action last Tuesday night when he played for Leicester against England Under-21s, a match in aid of the Matt Hampson Trust.
Andy Robinson's party of 30 - captained by Pat Sanderson who last year led England A, now re-branded the Saxons, to success in the Churchill Cup - include a dozen from outside the élite squad but few expected the Tigers' understudy to Harry Ellis to make the two-Test trip. "I thought I had an outside chance and I'd heard a couple of rumours," Bemand said. "Matt Dawson has retired, Shaun Perry's injured and Harry's not going so it's nice to get a tour and it's a great opportunity."
Bemand did not get the news in a phone call from Robinson. His wife Lucy spotted it on Teletext while Bemand was recovering from a stag do the night before. "It wasn't too rowdy," he said, which is surprising considering that (a) it was held at Welford Road and (b) it was a mass rite of passage with a whole colony of Tigers - Louis Deacon, Lewis Moody, Jamie Hamilton, Will Johnson and Leon Lloyd - heading for the altar.
Bemand may have benefited from the fact that England are not spoilt for choice for world- class No 9s, but what makes this end of season bonus all the more remarkable is that he has started only four matches for Leicester.
In pre-season training last summer (the Tigers' notorious sessions come with a health warning) he smashed an ankle in a pile-up. He had just about recovered by Christmas when he was invalided out of another training session.
"Graham Rowntree caught me in one of his chewing-gum tackles and my ankle went again." Chewing gum? "You know, one of those wraparound tackles. There's no escape. To tell you the truth, by this time I had written the season off."
Bemand comes from a rugby-loving farming family in Herefordshire. "We played for the Luctonians in the Midland division and we all supported Leicester. As a kid one of my heroes was Dean Richards and I used to see him because he visited our farm for pheasant shoots. I got my first taste of professional rugby at Moseley and had four years there until it went tits up. The backers pulled out and the administrators came in."
Bemand moved to Harlequins in 2001 and worked with the former England scrum-half Richard Hill. After three years at The Stoop Bemand left on a high, Quins winning the European Challenge Cup. "Fortunately, Leicester came in with an offer. If you can be competitive there you're in good shape. It's ironic that I was at Quins before Dean Richards arrived and at Leicester after he'd left."
Richards, who has had a season at Quins overseeing their return to the Premiership, is in the frame for the new England post of director of élite rugby, along with Sir Clive Woodward, Rob Andrew, Nick Mallett and Warren Gatland. They have been invited to submit their CVs but the Rugby Football Union are in no hurry to finalise the appointment. At least their deadline for naming a supremo who will have overall control of the new structure is not as pressing as recruiting Robinson's coaching team for Australia, bearing in mind they leave Heathrow at the beginning of June.
Interviews were held last week and, as expected, Brian Ashton will be in charge of attack, John Wells the forwards and Mike Ford defence. Referring to the RFU review that led to a radical overhaul at Twickenham, Robinson said: "It's been a difficult month. I hate where England are now in terms of results but it was right to have the review and I think we'll be the better for it."
For the time being Robinson, whose forte was the forwards when he was Sir Clive's assistant, is happy for Wells to take charge of the pack. "My position now is stronger not weaker than before," Robinson maintained. "In the end one person will have the final say on selection and that person will be me." Or the new élite director.
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