IT TOOK Clive Woodward two and a quarter years and 28 international matches to pick Simon Shaw in an England starting line- up, and the Wasps second row would not be at all surprised if tomorrow's little tete-a-tete with Ireland at Lansdowne Road signalled the beginning of another endless spell in the shadows. But Shaw is nothing if not phlegmatic; indeed, the first of England's new-age locks is past worrying about the disappointments and frustrations of Test selection.
"I understand the situation perfectly," said the front-jumper after being asked to fill the vacancy created by Martin Johnson's latest injury problems. "I would not have been selected for this game had Martin been around and no matter what I do against Ireland, he will be chosen again as soon as he has recovered from his broken hand. But it is my responsibility to produce a performance that will at least give the management something to think about; not only my responsibility but, in the context of a Grand Slam match like this, my duty to England."
Back in the summer of 1997, Shaw suffered the mother and father of a blow to morale during that year's Lions tour of South Africa, when, despite playing quite beautifully in the matches against Natal and Free State, he lost out to the Ulsterman Jeremy Davidson in all three Tests. However, the England coach at the time, Jack Rowell, continued to value him as a natural partner for Johnson - a wide- roaming, footballing lock who could complement the Leicester man's tighter attributes - and there seemed no reason why he should not win 40-plus caps.
Then came Woodward and a fresh set of opinions. Shaw lost his place to his one-time Bristol club-mate, Garath Archer, and then saw Danny Grewcock emerge as a live contender for the bump-and-grind duties. By the time the 1999 World Cup came around, Tim Rodber had also been developed as a second row, and Shaw found himself out of the 30-man squad altogether. He was given a run alongside Archer when Johnson's groin gave out before the 2000 Six Nations, but was discarded following the Grand Slam defeat at Murrayfield. …