‘Wine-tast­ing is like my role in Eng­land’s scrum’

Andrew Sheridan, once Aus­tralia’s neme­sis, is ex­celling in his new job, writes Daniel Schofield

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Rugby Union -

Andrew Sheridan has quite the CV: a con­verted sec­ond row who be­came one of the most de­struc­tive props in world rugby, a bench-press per­sonal best of 460lb, a Level 2 NVQ in brick­lay­ing, a self-penned 16-track folk al­bum and, most re­cently, a holder of a Wine and Spirit Ed­u­ca­tion Trust diploma.

Since it was es­tab­lished in 1969, only 9,000 peo­ple have reached the level-four stage with the WSET, but it is a fair bet that Sheridan is its first grad­u­ate to have sin­gle­hand­edly de­mol­ished an Aus­tralian scrum on two oc­ca­sions. Even now, the very men­tion of his name can send shud­ders down a few Wal­la­bies’ spines.

As he set­tles down with a 2013 Chi­anti Ru­fina on a re­cent visit to London, Sheridan says his per­for­mances against Aus­tralia in 2005 and 2007 were fu­elled by no sense of an­tipa­thy. “It was noth­ing per­sonal,” Sheridan says. “I al­ways re­ally en­joyed be­ing around Aus­tralians. They were an un­be­liev­ably com­pet­i­tive bunch in all sports. They want to win so badly, and that rubs off on you.”

It was 12 years ago, in his first Eng­land start, that Sheridan’s star was born. Just four sea­sons pre­vi­ously, he had been flit­ting be­tween the sec­ond and back row with­out much suc­cess. Peter

Thor­burn, his coach at Bris­tol, sug­gested he give the front row a try. “I was open to the idea,” Sheridan says. “I was an OK sec­ond row, but I was never go­ing to progress as an in­ter­na­tional rugby player there. I think it was a case of ei­ther it worked or it was back to the draw­ing board.”

What marked Sheridan out was his strength. Tales of his prow­ess in the gym are leg­endary. With a dead­lift per­sonal best of 700lb, qual­i­fied judges thought he could have won an Olympic weightlift­ing medal had he switched sports.

The Wal­la­bies did not know what had hit them. Al Bax­ter, the un­for­tu­nate tight­head that day, was even­tu­ally sin-binned af­ter con­ced­ing a glut of penal­ties. That forced Matt Dun­ning to switch sides and the loose­head was duly car­ried off on a stretcher, forc­ing un­con­tested scrums for the fi­nal 10 min­utes of the match.

“That was a new level of scrum­mag­ing to com­pete against today,” Ed­die Jones, then the Aus­tralia coach, said after­wards. “Sheridan led the way, he put enor­mous pres­sure on the right­hand side of our scrum.”

Even now, Sheridan is keen to de­flect any praise. “A lot of it comes down to peo­ple around you, the hooker be­side you, the tight­head and the sec­ond rows be­hind you,” Sheridan says. “The scrum is very much a col­lec­tive. I was just lucky that I had Phil Vick­ery, Steve Thomp­son, Steve Borth­wick and Danny Grew­cock along­side me.”

Two years later, Sheridan again de­mol­ished the Aus­tralians up front in their World Cup quar­ter­fi­nal en­counter in Mar­seille, pro­vid­ing Jonny Wilkin­son with the plat­form to kick Eng­land to an im­prob­a­ble 12-10 vic­tory. There is a fan­tas­tic story which has done the rounds that, in the chang­ing rooms be­fore the match, Mark Re­gan, the gar­ru­lous hooker, over­head Sheridan lis­ten­ing to the Spice Girls on his ipod. Alarmed by this de­vel­op­ment, Re­gan takes the op­por­tu­nity to slyly kick Sheridan in the head at an early ruck. With Re­gan blam­ing the op­po­si­tion, a suit­ably en­raged Sheridan duly evis­cer­ates the Wal­la­bies.

It is fan­tas­tic, but ac­cord­ing to Sheridan him­self to­tal fic­tion. “The Spice Girls had a lot of suc­cess, I didn’t mind a cou­ple of their songs, but I have no idea where that came from. Ab­so­lute non­sense.”

The even greater shame was that Sheridan was lim­ited to just 40 caps for Eng­land as in­juries took their toll. Sheridan had four op­er­a­tions on his shoul­ders be­fore be­ing forced to re­tire at 34 on med­i­cal ad­vice in 2014.

“I went in to the sport with my eyes open,” Sheridan says. “I never thought that I would come out the other end un­scathed. It is a tough old game. I en­joyed it in my youth, but hav­ing turned 38 I don’t re­ally miss it that much. I don’t have a par­tic­u­lar de­sire to smash my head into an­other scrum.”

Nev­er­the­less, Sheridan has just started coach­ing in Toulon’s academy close to where he is based in France. “I am re­ally look­ing for­ward to it. These are young lads who have got a lot of po­ten­tial and hope­fully I will be able to pass on some of my knowl­edge to them.”

The ma­jor­ity of his time is spent within the wine trade. Sheridan be­gan his diploma while still play­ing. He tells a story of Gra­ham Rown­tree, the Eng­land scrum coach, walk­ing into his room at Pen­ny­hill Park to find Sheridan with two opened bot­tles of wine and a bot­tle of brandy on the go. The ex­pla­na­tion that it was for course­work did not go down well.

To pass his level four, Sheridan took six ex­ams, which in­volved be­ing able to iden­tify 250 wines, as well as 32 spir­its. He says the arts of blind tast­ing and scrum­mag­ing have a lot in com­mon.

“When you are pre­sented with 60 wines, it is the abil­ity to as­sess them un­der pres­sure and iden­tify the flavours,” Sheridan says. “In rugby, you are also mak­ing those de­ci­sions un­der pres­sure, work­ing out what the guy op­po­site you is do­ing and act­ing upon it quickly. Tast­ing is less phys­i­cally de­mand­ing, but it has that same men­tal sat­is­fac­tion of work­ing it out like a puz­zle.”

‘Hav­ing turned 38, I don’t miss it that much. I don’t have a de­sire to smash my head into a scrum’

Red-blooded: Andrew Sheridan in his day job and (top) tak­ing on Matt Dun­ning, of Aus­tralia, dur­ing Eng­land’s vic­tory at the 2007 World Cup

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