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Last Updated: Wednesday, 2 February 2005, 16:54 GMT
Hanley hands Tait timely warning
By Paul Birch

Sale winger Steve Hanley
Hanley is a proven finisher in England's top flight
For those predicting a long and glorious England career for Mathew Tait, the experience of Sale wing Steve Hanley should act as a cautionary tale.

Hanley, like Tait, was thrust into the England side at an early age, yet his international career stalled after just a solitary cap.

He was 20 when Clive Woodward plucked him from relative obscurity to play in the crucial Six Nations decider against Wales at Wembley in 1999.

A long and fruitful England career beckoned for the Cumbrian-born wing, and he duly delivered with a try on his debut.

Yet that Grand Slam-stopping defeat remains the last occasion Hanley has pulled on the red rose jersey, one call-up for the England 'A' team aside.

I've never put it out of my expectations that I won't play for England again
Steve Hanley
"I haven't got a clue why I wasn't picked again," Hanley told BBC Sport. "I never received an explanation and there was no real input from anyone about what was wrong.

"There were rumours about defence but I have tidied that part of my game up now.

"They had a settled side under Clive and once you were in, it was hard to get out as the team was winning all the time."

In the intervening years, Hanley has scored 66 tries in 109 Zurich Premiership matches, a strike rate that would have most country's national coaches beating a path to his door.

And six years after being cast into the international wilderness, his ambition to return to the England fold remains strong.

"I've never put it out of my expectations that I won't play for England again," he said.

"There is a new coaching staff and new faces about so I've got to put myself in the limelight with Sale and keep on playing well.

Steve Hanley in action for England
Hanley scored a try on his only outing for England against Wales
"When I was 21 it used to bother me but I'm 25 now and as long as I'm happy at Sale and doing my best there is nothing else I can do.

"You get watched every game by an England representative who reports to Andy so you can't have a bad game, you have to be consistent.

"I saw him earlier in the season when I was injured and he said I was having a good season."

Hanley could be afforded a touch of envy at the glut of attention Tait is now attracting.

But having encountered the teenager when Sale met Newcastle this season, he has no doubts the youngster can cope with the pressure-cooker atmosphere of the Six Nations.

"Tait is a fantastic player and seems to have an old head on young shoulders," Hanley said.

"He doesn't seem to make the kind of defensive errors you'd expect a young player to make.

"He has obviously had some great coaching up at Newcastle from Rob Andrew, Jonny Wilkinson and Jamie Noon."

I hope Mark Cueto has a fantastic Six Nations
Steve Hanley
Hanley, meanwhile, is revelling in his new-found maturity at Sale, a club blossoming under the direction of coach Philippe Saint Andre.

"He has brought a lot of different ideas to the club, people have stood up and taken notice of him," Hanley said.

"He has a special interest in his wingers and has lots of good ideas and little technical things only a player who has played the class of rugby he has would know."

Ironically, Hanley has been forced to watch fellow Sale wing Mark Cueto rise from nowhere to book a starting spot in Robinson's new-look England XV.

"It's funny really, I got a cap early-doors in my career, whereas he has been playing well for three or four years without getting a look in.

"He was miffed and was wondering what he had done wrong.

"But he had a good start to the season, Andy Robinson holds him in high regard and threw him straight in.

"It just shows what can happen. I hope Mark has a fantastic Six Nations and grabs his chance."

New England pair backed to thrive
01 Feb 05 |  Internationals
Teenager Tait picked for England
31 Jan 05 |  Internationals

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