Ton machine Leonard just happy to be given his chance
19 November 2002 18:58pm
He's not quite got the ton yet but Jason Leonard will win his 99th cap for England this Saturday (23rd November 2002) against South Africa, thanks to an exceptional return against Australia last weekend (Saturday 16th November 2002), which had the England coach Clive Woodward singing his praises.
"I thought that Jason Leonard stepped up and had a great game and really played well. He came in late, which he did on Thursday for Trevor Woodman, and he was fantastic. I am very pleased for Jason."
Leonard himself was just pleased to be playing. Sorry that Gloucester's prop Trevor Woodman missed out, but glad to be given the chance to start an international for the first time since last year's friendly with Rumania.
"No-one can take their place for granted," said the NEC Harlequins loosehead prop. "I got in through a bad injury to Trevor Woodman, which is not the way that you want to get the nod because I thought Trevor was one of our best players the other week against New Zealand."
"But you take your chances and I enjoyed my game over the weekend, and you hope to let the manager have the biggest selection headache that he can have and hopefully it will go your way."
A summer of rest and recuperation following an ankle injury at Sale at the end of last season gave Leonard a rare opportunity to do some quality pre-season work and return this season fully fit and raring to go, and his performances at club level have been nothing short of exceptional.
"You just want to go out and play. When you run out at Twickenham, or anywhere for that matter wearing an England shirt, with the players that we've got, and you hear the reception from the crowd, that is the reason why you are playing international rugby."
"It always has been important to me, it's never been the caps, or the amount of games, or World Cups. It's always been about people you play rugby with and people you play rugby against, and that's what makes it important," said Leonard.
"I might have made 98 appearances, but I'd like to play a lot more. I'm not looking particularly at the ton. I'd like to play right through to the World Cup, which would be a size more than the 100, that's just a goal that I've given myself."
"I don't think that it is not an impossible goal, and I'll be pushing myself all the way the same as all the props will be giving each other healthy competition all the way."
Leonard has never shied away from a challenge, whether from other players after his place or the opposition after his ball, and this coming Saturday he sees that it will be no different.
"Competition has never bothered me, it is always a kick. England have always had good front rowers and there has always been players putting me under pressure for my position even from when I first started."
"It was Paul Rendell and Martyn Hynes back then, followed by Graham Rowntree, and now Trevor Woodman has come through. Even on the other side of the scrum there is Phil Vickery and Julian White, so there is huge competition everywhere."
"And on top of that little lot there is Robbie Morris coming through and David Flatman, so there is no room for complacency by anybody, especially me," said Leonard more than aware that his place is continually under threat.
"Every game you've got to show that you are the best. Clive (Woodward) has said that there is no hiding place and I think that is the case. You can have one quietish game and that is not good enough because there is always people to replace you."
"You aren't going to be in by reputation and past glories or anything like that. Not only me, but every single player will want to get an opportunity to show what you can do, and that will reflect in the next game and the game after that."
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.