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Last Updated: Tuesday, 1 February, 2005, 12:01 GMT
Shooting Stars: Mathew Tait (England)
Mathew Tait Dimitri Yachvili Marcus Horan Sergio Parisse Chris Cusiter Gavin Henson Matthew Tait

By James Standley

This time last year the toughest test Mathew Tait was facing was his A-levels.

Fast forward 12 months and the 18-year-old is on the verge of an examination of an altogether different nature - the Six Nations and international rugby.

Less than a year after leaving school the Newcastle centre is already being talked about as the most exciting youngster to emerge since a certain Jonny Wilkinson.

Tait may have been an age-group star for junior England teams for years but he only made his senior debut for Newcastle in April 2004.

Tait has so much gas
Ex-England centre Jeremy Guscott
And he made his mark immediately, scoring with his first touch of the ball against London Irish.

Since then Tait has gone on to score some sparkling tries for the Falcons and despite playing just over a dozen games he has forced himself into the international reckoning.

The last 18-year-old to play for England was Wilkinson; national hero, rugby legend and, these days, perpetual spectator.

Wilkinson, injured for the third time since kicking England to World Cup victory, is also Tait's team-mate at Newcastle and he is in no doubt about the teenager's abilities.

Born: 6 February 1986
Wolsingham, England
Position: Centre
Caps: 0
Points: 0
Six Nations appearances: 0
Three A grades at A-Level

"He is a player who has immense self-confidence," said Wilkinson. "But he is humble, he works hard, and has a kind of explosive, unknown quality.

"He can do something quite incredible that leaves the rest of the team staring in disbelief."

Tait names Ireland captain Brian O'Driscoll and former England centre Jeremy Guscott as his heroes.

It is a measure of his youth that when he name checks Guscott, it comes with the rider, "but I can only remember bits of Jerry. He's a little bit before my time."

That might make Guscott feel old beyond his years but he believes Tait is ready for the big stage, saying: "I would have no problem throwing him in."

Tait is a product of Barnard Castle School, which also produced Rob Andrew and the Underwood brothers.

At 5ft 11in and 12st 6lb he is no giant but Newcastle conditioning coach Steve Black, who also worked with Wales and the Lions, says that pound for pound he is as strong as ex-Wales centre Scott Gibbs.

Tait was certainly strong enough to bounce off England captain Jason Robinson as he scored a cracking try against Sale earlier this month and he also has great pace and vision.

Tait turns 19 the day after England face Wales, by which time he may already have made the wider rugby world aware of his burgeoning talent.

Interview: England's Mathew Tait

Wilkinson backs Tait for England
26 Jan 05 |  Six Nations

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