Sampson on fast track to senior selection

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The Independent Online
DAVID LLEWELLYN

Yesterday morning a business studies and English A level student at Woodhouse Grove School, near Bradford, was summoned in trepidation to the study of his headmaster, David Welsh. Paul Sampson left it a member of the England rugby union squad.

"I wasn't really sure what to expect when I went in there," Paul Sampson said, "but as soon as I saw him smiling I relaxed. When he told me the news I just felt disbelief. It's been an absolutely crazy day."

For all the apparent bewilderment, though, there is a cool side to the new boy in England's ranks. In one breath he says: "It will be a dream come true to sit alongside the likes of Jerry Guscott, Will Carling and Rory Underwood. I didn't expect in the slightest that I would get the opportunity at this stage in my career."

In the next, however, he talks calmly of the possibility of replacing Underwood - England's record try-scorer and most-capped player. "It's a nice thought, but I am not thinking along those lines for the moment. It's just the practical thing of being with them and absorbing some of the atmosphere, rather than being thrown in at the deep end."

Sampson is a born sportsman. His father, Brian, and his uncles all played professional rugby league for Wakefield; cousin Dean, a Castleford prop, was in the England rugby league World Cup squad last year; another cousin, Denise Ramsden, was a member of the Great Britain 4x100m relay team at the Montreal Olympics and his mother, Christine, is a former England Schools high jump champion.

Sampson and Joe Ewens, the Colston's Collegiate School centre, are two of the hottest schoolboy prospects around. Sampson himself is a serious sprinter - Yorkshire Under-20 champion at 60m, 100m and 200m. "Rugby and athletics complement each other," he said. "Rugby gives me strength and stamina; athletics gives me the speed."

His school coach, Roger Howard, said: "I have never seen anything as fast on a rugby field." His headmaster said: "He is solid, but not a giant in any way. He is a tremendous athlete, is very fast and has a lot of rugby skills to ally to that. He is a lively, ebullient young man. There's always a sparkle and a lot of humour about him."

John Elliott, the Rugby Football Union's National Player Development Officer and more importantly an England selector, watched the 18-year- old, in the England Colts trial and, while insisting that a sense of proportion had to be maintained over Sampson's elevation, said last night: "He is very quick and he has a lot of skills. He is stocky, well-built and from what I have seen of him I am immensely impressed."

His speed is undeniably his greatest asset. He has a personal best of 10.7sec for the 100m. Last Sunday, as the England Colts training weekend down at Castlecroft near Wolverhampton came to an end, Sampson's parents whisked him back up to Sheffield where he lifted the 60m title with a run of 6.94 - an Under-20 championship record. Yet this time last week Sampson's ambition was simply to make it into the England Colts team for their match later this season against Italy.

Sampson, who has scored six tries - including a hat-trick - since making his first XV debut for Third Division Otley earlier this season, cites Nigel Melville, the former England scrum-half, as a major influence on his rugby career. "He has helped me a tremendous amount, introducing me gradually to senior rugby and in particular to playing on the wing." And the player Sampson holds in greatest esteem is Paul Hull.

Full-back is his favoured position, although this season he has also turned out at stand-off for his school. "I like Paul Hull's style of play," says Sampson. "He is a runner and I like to think of myself as a running full-back."

Whether England regard him as a running full-back or a full- blown wing is anyone's guess, but they will not stand in the way of his development. Elliott said: "If he shows promise then we wouldn't hold a guy back. We look for fast tracking." They will not find a fast tracker much quicker than Paul Sampson.

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