Friday, 20 November 2009

Why the All Blacks can't be too Shaw at Twickenham tomorrow

IF there's one man who can inspire England's lacklustre troops at Twickenham tomorrow, it's ageless Wasps lock Simon Shaw.
Did I say ageless? He's 36, barely two years younger than the under-pressure England manager Martin Johnson, who has recalled the Nairobi-born 6ft 8in giant for the last Autumn showdown against New Zealand tomorrow.
Some might see Shaw as Johnson's last throw of the dice. He's only just recovered from a fractured metatarsal and has played just two club games this season.
But there's a lot more going on beneath the surface; things to prove, a lifetime of frustration to put aside as Shaw wins his 53rd England cap since his 1996 debut against Italy - we all know it should be closer to three figures.
Under the previous England regime of Brian Ashton in Bath four years ago, Shaw showed me the gnarled hands, bent and broken like a jib-saw puzzle by years of line-out leaping and ruck rummaging. And while he did, he talked of how he was a better lock than World Cup-winning captain Johnson, who had not long retired at the time.
"I just didn't vocalise the way he did," Shaw grinned, "But I always felt I was a better player. But for years, nobody else did."
Clearly vocalising comes easier now, after helping England to a World Cup final in 2007 and starring on his debut for the Lions in South Africa last summer. He's released a book and gone public with his feelings... and after what he did to the Springboks, quite a few agree that, of the two giants, super Shaw may just have the edge over world-beater Johnson.
After defeat against Australia and a distinctly unimpressive 16-9 win over Argentina last week, Shaw now gets the chance to save Johnson's job.
He recognises the irony and shrugs off this week's controversial slamming of England's coaching set-up by his old Wasps pal Josh Lewsey.From beneath the second row forward's traditionally heavy brow, Shaw - who spent his formative years at beachside club Pirates in Dunedin a mere 17 years ago, growls: "I've never come across a bad New Zealand side. Never mind technical plans, we need to go at them with aggression and take them on from the kick-off. There is no point holding back and trying to contain All Blacks. If you do that, you'll be beaten.
"New Zealand bring a physicality but I'm comfortable with that. It's on a par with the Lions in South Africa this year.
"There's a lot of fire and energy in the squad, I sensed it as soon as I arrived. The boys have been criticised despite the fact they beat Argentina, so they are keen to play again."
In 2004, just after the Ben Kay/Martin Johnson partnership had won the World Cup for Clive Woodward's side, Shaw lasted just 10 minutes of the second tTest against the All Blacks at Eden Park (pictured) before he was sent off for putting a knee into the back of Keith Robinson.
There's plenty of baggage but Shaw says: "You can prove a lot of people wrong. There's no reason to shy away from it, it's the last game of the autumn series, it's the All Blacks.
"We need to be very aggressive and confrontational - take it to the All Blacks."
Shaw's old fashioned approach may even work against a bunch of New Zealanders who finished a distant second to an average Springbok side (beaten on their current European tour by Leicester and Saracens, not to mention France) in the Tri-Nations this year.
Shaw even admits he doesn't know "an awful lot" about Brad Thorn, who lines up and line-outs against him tomorrow.
He just says: "Any time you face the All Blacks it's going to be an incredibly hard game and you have to reach for your reserves and every ounce of energy to beat them.."
You can expect at least that from England's oldest player tomorrow. And an important hug with the manager if he pulls it off.

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