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Wednesday, 14 March, 2001, 14:11 GMT
Greenwood's secret past

Firing on all cylinders for England and Harlequins
BBC Sport's Nigel Starmer-Smith talks to Will Greenwood about his early days - drinking sherry before games for Preston.

There are eight or nine England backs on form at the moment but for me there is no-one playing nearer to his peak than Will Greenwood.

Some great England performances this season, capped by his hat-trick against Wales, have been matched by his influence in reviving of the fortunes of his club, Harlequins.

It was Will's father Richard who was the spur to his son's success.

It was an interesting experience as a young kid at Preston drinking a schooner of sherry before kick-off with the rest of the team, ending up half-trolleyed before the start!
  Will Greenwood

Richard was a class flanker, never one to be slow in coming forward on (or off!) the field, with a viewpoint on - well, just about anything.

A straight-talking, forthright Lancastrian, captain of Waterloo, Lancashire and England as well as national coach, he was an influential dad.

Will's first childhood memory was watching him playing rugby.

"I was three years old, in the stand at Stade Flaminio, Rome, watching my father play for Roma," he recalls.

"There was always a rugby ball around somewhere, from my days in the cradle onwards."

Greenwood on his England debut in 1996
Greenwood on his England debut in 1996
Greenwood started playing rugby as a pupil at St Mary's Hall and went on to captain the school, where his mother still teaches.

Another former old boy is Iain Balshaw, who also captained St Mary's, seven years after Greenwood.

When the time came to move to senior school it might have seemed logical to move to nearby Stonyhurst College in Blackburn, where his father was a master and contemporary Kyran Bracken was already on the books.

But it was deemed to be in his better interests to go to Sedbergh.

"So as a 12-year-old I moved to the boarding school in Yorkshire, following in the footsteps of a certain Will Carling, who had left the year I arrived. It worked out well, and the school tradition of top-class rugby continued."

Greenwood also followed Carling to Durham University after being turned down by his father's college at Cambridge.

Will Greenwood scores against South Africa
"I got used to getting beaten up at Preston"

"I blew it with a stinking question on the Miners' Strike and the interview went downhill from thereon," he recalled with a smile.

His father didn't believe there was much to be gained by playing junior rugby, so between the ages of 16 and 18 he played for the Preston Grasshoppers 3rd and 4th teams.

"It was regarded as a good way to toughen up," he said.

"I got used to getting beaten up playing the likes of Vale of Lune and Fylde.

"It was an interesting experience as a young kid drinking a schooner of sherry before kick-off with the rest of the team, ending up half-trolleyed before the start!"

You can tell when a guy's on top of his game - just look for the smile on their face and there's a happy confident performer!
  Will Greenwood

"It became rather more serious when I made the first team at Preston with Paul Grayson."

He soon switched to the familiar territory of Blundellsands - home of Waterloo - when his father decided it was time to move up a grade.

"It was there that I met up with Austin Healey and all those long drives from Durham, for training on Thursday nights as well.

"My only regret was to cry off a game one day in order to play for Durham versus Oxford University - it was thought that might be a better career move at that time.

"The game I missed turned out to be the famous occasion when Waterloo knocked Bath out of the Cup."

Will Greenwood in action against France
"Enjoying things more than I have for a few years"

His career took another turn when he came down to London for a job with Jamie Salmon - the Harlequin and former All Black centre - and was soon snapped up by Quins.

"That was the start of the real 'big-time' rugby, and the rest you know about. "

The "rest" has been Harlequins to Leicester and back to Quins again not to mention his career in an England shirt.

And now he says he is enjoying the game more than ever.

"I'm asked sometimes if there's any particular reason why I seem to be playing better than for some time.

"Obviously, injury troubles stopped me in my tracks for a while, but it's more down to the fact that I'm enjoying things more than I have done for a couple of years.

"I'll tell you how you can tell when a guy's on top of his game.

Man of steel

"It's no secret, and it applies equally to top soccer players too, just look for the smile on their face and there's a happy, confident performer!"

Greenwood's pleasure at England's international performances, though tinged by regret at the disruption caused by the foot-and-mouth outbreak, is matched by revival at Harlequins.

"There's a new spirit at the club and the impact the forwards are now having is tremendous.

"At the start of the season the backs were scoring lots of tries, but losing matches.

"Since Christmas our captain, Dave Wilson, has been phenomenal, as player and leader, and the likes of Jason Leonard and Keith Wood are doing the business week in week out.

"We've also been helped immensely by the return to fitness of Roy Winters and Pat Sanderson and the input of a player who doesn't always get the praise he deserves, Steve White-Cooper - a man of steel.

"His tackle count must be 15 or 16 per game: his lungs must be exceptional!"

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See also:

10 Mar 01 |  Rugby Union
Quins shock Bath with comeback
06 Mar 01 |  Rugby Union
England set new standards
03 Mar 01 |  Six Nations
England snatch back Calcutta Cup
24 Feb 01 |  Rugby Union
Newcastle snatch Cup glory
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