Sampson finds his thrills at Strawberry Hill

A schoolboy's dream became reality yesterday. John McKie witnessed it
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The Independent Online
When the England squad met up for training at St Mary's College in Strawberry Hill, Richmond yesterday, Will Carling arrived in his Range Rover, mobile phone in hand, Martin Bayfield came in his sponsored top of the range Mercedes and Paul Sampson hitched a lift from a friend with his mascot, a cuddly tiger called Tigger.

Sampson, 18, who is about to embark on A Levels in English and business studies at Woodhouse Grove School, Bradford, even had a ball ready to be autographed by the England team for his friends and family.

But there was also the slight matter of training to be negotiated. Sampson had been invited to join the squad after his promising performances for Otley in the Third Division. The more cynical have suggested this was union's attempt to keep him in the code - given that his father and uncle both played for Wakefield Trinity, and that Bradford and St Helens have reportedly been ringing the Sampson household. There was also the danger Sampson might be more interested in athletics - he has already run the 100m in 10.7 seconds.

Yesterday's training session seemed to have done the trick. By the end, the winger-cum-fullback was pledging allegiance to rugby union and the Five Nations' Championships of the future.

"It's been superb, and I hope I will return the next time we meet up. My ambition is now to get a full England cap. The nearest thing to this day is probably winning the National Lottery," he said.

Jack Rowell, the England manager, saw enough potential to be impressed by Sampson. He said: "What we're reaching for is players who could possibly play for England subject to some encouragement and development. He looks as sharp as we heard he was and he kicks like a footballer. We're short of top-class wingers."

Jeremy Guscott, who knows a little about successful back play himself, was also full of praise. "It's difficult to tell from one session but judging from what everyone has said, he's a very competent young man both on and off the field."

According to Guscott, his newest international colleague was not overawed by the Strawberry Hill gang - even when they took issue with his outfit. "He arrived last night with a great big bag and we asked him if he was staying for a night or a week. And we told him the blazer and tie he was wearing had to go too."

Sampson's week, though full of interviews, TV appearances and compliments from seasoned pro's, was far from the dream debut against Wales on Saturday as billed by some newspapers. He was not on yesterday's team sheet, not even on the bench, and unlike the rest of the squad, went home to Yorkshire last night and not the team hotel. But, just as he was trying to escape with the balls the England team had autographed, he was stopped again. This time, it was not yet another journalist, but a young fan keen for Sampson's name on an autographed England team ball.