Leonard given the chance to prove who is number one
15 November 2002 23:53pm
NEC Harlequins prop Jason Leonard has been given the chance to prove that he is still the number one loosehead in the country, and is being backed to do just that against Australia by England head coach Clive Woodward and forwards coach Andy Robinson ahead of this weekend's test match against the World Champions at Twickenham.
"Jason thinks that he should be in the team anyway," said Woodward at today's (Friday's) press conference.
"He's playing well for his club and I do not see us having to change anything to accommodate him in the side."
"It is a huge opportunity for Jason. He's not there just to make the numbers up, but to show that he is the best loosehead in the country."
The 34 year-old Leonard has been in irresistible form this season probably playing the best all round game for many a year - thanks to a rest in the summer where he was able to get over an injury suffered at the end of last season.
"I'm enjoying my game and playing well and at the end of the day you've just got to see if it's enough. I was named in the original squad of 33 and whether that is enough or not is neither here nor there and you've just got to carry on playing."
"I've made no secret that I want to play through the World Cup, and if that means I play and get to 100 caps then so be it. It is not about that for me."
"I'm pretty confident in the way that I am playing and if I play I'll get the nod at some point, whether it is now or later who knows. Sometimes you can be penalised for being versatile, and I've definitely felt at times that I've been on the other side of the drum a bit like Austin Healey covering every single back position."
"The other side of it is to say that it is a great string to your bow. I'm probably the only player who can play both sides, and whether that works in my favour or against me you don't know until the team is selected."
Leonard has enjoyed being an international prop for over 12 seasons since making his debut in the summer of 1990 just before he joined Quins from London rivals Saracens, and his hunger to continue playing is very evident in his performances this year.
"If he didn't have the hunger he wouldn't be selected," commented forwards coach Andy Robinson.
"He's had to step up to the mark - and he's done that. He's there on merit and performed for his club in all the games that I've seen him play."
A good game on Saturday would see Leonard retain his place for the following week against South Africa - but the trick for the Barking born prop is to continue to perform at club and then England when he gets the opportunity, and Saturday is a very big test for Leonard and England.
During week commencing 22nd April Harlequins will launch an innovative, new Membership Scheme which will replace the existing Season Ticket Holder Programme. Further details of the scheme will be announced in due course.