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Last Updated: Friday, 28 September 2007, 05:40 GMT 06:40 UK
Chuter opts for hairy route
By Bryn Palmer
BBC Sport in Paris

Fridays at this World Cup are becoming distinctly hairy affairs.

First it was the flowing manes of Argentina, who cut down the hosts. Then France's "caveman" Sebastien Chabal took centre stage at the Stade de France.

George Chuter
Someone in my shoes certainly has to treat it as a last chance at a World Cup

George Chuter

And now it is the colour of the Tongan team's hair which has led the build-up to the decisive encounter against England at the Parc des Princes.

While the Pacific Islanders are a nailed-on bet to win the barnet of the tournament - thanks to Finau Maka's hair-raising effort - at least England have a contender for the beard accolade.

Hirsute hooker George Chuter is relatively new to the barbate business. He only grew his last year, and "spent 10-12 weeks cultivating it" before bringing the razor out.

"My wife hates it, so I grew it again!" he told BBC Sport. "But it is not a superstitious thing or anything like that, more a rite of passage."

Chuter, 31, reckons his three-and-a-half month old creation will stay until England's interest in the tournament ends, but it is the sort of look the Leicester hooker might have developed in what he calls his "gap year" in 2000.

After five years as a professional with Saracens, fed up with the "treadmill" of one season almost running into the next, he opted, at 24, to take a break from the game.

"It all just got a bit samey really, the same old faces at training," he reflected.

"I came to a point where I was out of contract, I had an opportunity to sign a new one, but I took a step back and thought 'Is this what I really want? Is it good for me, and is it good for Saracens?'

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"I wasn't particularly into what I was doing at the time, and if you are not 100% you can be a bit of a liability. So I made a clean break.

"Looking back, it could have been a disaster, I could have been out the game completely, because it moves on so quickly these days. But as it turned out, it was the shot in the arm I needed."

Chuter admits he "effectively did nothing for six months" during his sabbatical.

He went to America for a month to stay with his girlfriend, now wife, Katy. From there he went to Sydney while the Olympics were on, crashed on a mate's floor and "just bummed around really - it was great."

GEORGE CHUTER FACTS
George Chuter
Club: Leicester Tigers
Position: Hooker
Born: 09.07.76
Height: 1.78m (5'10")
Weight: 99.7kg

Six years on, having established himself at Leicester, Chuter made a belated Test debut in Sydney on England's Australian tour of 2006, just before his 30th birthday.

The Londoner may not be around for the next World Cup, and is determined to make the most of the make-or-break opportunity he now has with England.

"This may be my only crack at it," he said. "I will be 35 by the time the next one comes around and I don't know even know if I will still be playing rugby.

"Someone in my shoes certainly has to treat it as a last chance at a World Cup. It may transpire I play the next one, who knows, but this is my chance now and there is a definite feeling of 'now or never'."

His attitude has been sharpened after a less-than-smooth passage into England's starting line-up, having started all but one of this year's Six Nations matches.

Like many Leicester and Wasps players involved in the Heineken Cup final, he was keen to go on tour to South Africa in the summer, but had to accept Brian Ashton's decision to leave him at home.

Everyone has labelled Tonga the surprise package of the World Cup but to a lot of us it is not that great a surprise

George Chuter

His fears were realised as Mark Regan stated a forceful case for his jersey and, not helped by a bang on the knee against Wales, Chuter found himself playing second fiddle during the warm-up games and the pool matches against the USA and South Africa.

"It was very frustrating," he admits. "Don't get me wrong, I really enjoy training, but I am here to play rugby. It is frustrating I didn't get to play sooner but I think that all came out against Samoa."

Chuter's superb display was one of several encouraging aspects to England's victory in Nantes and a similar chance to show his skills against Tonga would be welcome.

"Everyone has labelled Tonga the surprise package of the World Cup but to a lot of us it is not that great a surprise," Chuter added.

"They have a collection of pretty talented individuals and the fact they have gelled together as a team is great considering the resources they work with."

By 11pm local time on Friday, Chuter will either be contemplating a quarter-final against Australia, or bringing the razor out again. It promises to be a hairy ride.



SEE ALSO
Rugby union positions guide
05 Feb 07 |  Laws & Equipment
Tongans told to ditch green hair
27 Sep 07 |  Rugby Union
England v Tonga (Fri)
27 Sep 07 |  English


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