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Last Updated: Wednesday, 3 September, 2003, 18:56 GMT 19:56 UK
Thompson throws a fast one
By Pranav Soneji

England hooker Steve Thompson practices his line out throws
Thompson is a permanent fixture in the England front row
Simon Hardy is not a name most England rugby fans are familiar with, but his influence has had a profound effect on Steve Thompson.

The Northampton hooker admitted that without the guidance of Hardy, England's specialist throwing coach, his career would have taken a very different - and less auspicious - path.

"If it wasn't for Simon, I wouldn't be in the England team right now," he told the BBC Sport website.

"Before I met him, my line out throwing was bad - I couldn't hit a barn door!"

Like specialist kicking coach Dave Aldred, whose knowledge and input has helped Jonny Wilkinson develop into the world's best place kicker, Hardy has moulded Thompson into one of the best line out throwers around.

"I went on tour to the USA and Canada with England two years ago when I first met Simon," said Thompson.

He's tough in the scrums and he's always consistent throwing in at the line out
Steve Thompson on Raphael Ibanez

"He taught me how to throw properly, things like technique, where my elbows and hands should be. He also taught me about the importance of timing and hitting my targets."

The 24-year-old only settled on the number two jersey when his former Saints coach Ian McGeechan suggested a move from the back row to the front in his teenage years.

"I played prop for a while, but that seemed too much hard work for me," he said.

"Playing hooker is the best of both worlds. I'm right in the middle of the scrum, but I can also run around all over the place like a loose forward.

Steve Thompson on the charge against Australia
The Australians felt the full Thompson force
"I've even found myself at fly-half on occasions, but Will Greenwood keeps telling me off every time I end up there!"

Thompson's all-round ball skills have not gone unnoticed.

Ever since making his debut against Scotland in February 2002, the former British rollerskating champion has secured his berth in England's front row.

His marauding performances against New Zealand and, in particular, Australia in June further illustrated why England coach Clive Woodward believes the 18-stone hooker will excel at the World Cup.

But first Thompson must face France in front of a capacity crowd at Twickenham, his first appearance in an England shirt since the historic victory over the Wallabies in Melbourne.

And the prospect of going head-to-head with Raphael Ibanez, the hooker who will join Saracens after the World Cup, is a contest he is eagerly anticipating.

"Ibanez is a really good player, you don't get 65 international caps for nothing." he said.

"Although he's smaller than me and most hookers, he's tough in the scrums and he's always consistent throwing in at the line out.

"It's going to be a test on Saturday, but I'm looking forward to it - it's always a challenge to measure yourself against the best in the world."

No doubt Ibanez is thinking exactly the same.

England name strong side
03 Sep 03  |  Internationals
France reshuffle Test side
02 Sep 03  |  Internationals
France stop England
30 Aug 03  |  Internationals

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