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Saturday, December 10, 2005


Young Sheridan well schooled in art of winning

By Mark Souster

Dulwich College was in awe of the giant England prop

IN THE north cloister of Dulwich College lies the James Caird, the lifeboat in which Sir Ernest Shackleton, the polar explorer and an old boy of the school, undertook his astonishing feat of seamanship to save 22 men trapped on Elephant Island during the Endurance expedition in 1916.

There is not yet a monument to Andrew Sheridan but it surely will not be long before the tyro England prop, whose nascent talent was nurtured on the playing fields of one of the great rugby-playing public schools, is recognised.

After the hiatus of the autumn internationals, when Sheridan’s profile and stock rose immeasurably, the front row behemoth returns to competitive action tonight with Sale Sharks as the club attempt to consolidate their impressive start in the Heineken Cup away to Castres. A win in France and in the return leg next week should ensure qualification for the knockout stages for the first time.

Sheridan, 26, epitomises what the school stands for and the type of boy it produces, according to Paul Miles, the director of sport at the College. “People have their feet on their ground here,” he said. “There is an attitude of, ‘Just go and do it.’ The boys don’t tend to do too much talking about things.”

Certainly, Sheridan fits that mould of the understated achiever. He thrived as a young player at the College as part of an age-group team that went unbeaten for seven years. Always big for his age, his feats of strength are part of school legend. In the sixth form he could bench-press a full stack of weights, but made it more demanding by having a boy perched on top. He could also complete arm curls with a youngster hanging from each limb.

He was held in awe. Unsurprisingly, as a 6ft 5in prefect he never had any problems with discipline.

Sheridan was one of the mainstays of that supremely talented year that ran amok from the ages of 11 to 18. Their collective exploits sent reverberations around the tight-knit public school circuit. It was not just about Sheridan, who switched between lock and the back row. The pack was something to behold. The first XV of 1997-98, which won all 15 matches, scoring 826 points and conceding only 47 against, included in the front row David Flatman, of Bath and England, and Jon Dawson, now at London Wasps.

Graham Able, the Master (headmaster), witnessed the last two years of Sheridan’s schooldays. “Andrew was very intelligent, quiet and unassuming outside the rugby field,” Able said. “He was very reliable, very helpful and considerate. He was perceptive and had a good sense of humour. He is an old boy of whom we are very proud. We are particularly delighted for him because, having had to move from the second row because no one was going to be able to lift him, he has learnt the dark arts of propping so very quickly. Destroying Australia was predictable but to hold his own against (Carl) Hayman (against New Zealand) was the biggest tribute to him so far.

A cursory flick through the pages of the Alleynian, the school annual, reveals glowing testimonies to Sheridan and many of the other boys from the team, eight of whom won representative honours, four with England. Various rugby masters paid tribute. In the under-12s, “Sheridan’s mauling was the best I have seen at this age level.” The under-13s won all 11 games, scoring 663 points, conceding none. The coach wrote:

"Equally at home in the front or back row, his (Sheridan’s) whole-hearted approach, aggressive attitude and commitment somehow epitomised an extraordinary team.”

On it goes. As Sheridan and his merry men, season after season, laid waste to allcomers, the tributes increased. The under-15s won the Daily Mail Schools Cup at Twickenham. Sheridan and Dawson scored tries. The report stated: “Sheridan was a colossus.” Another said: “Where does one begin with Andrew Sheridan? At one and the same time he is highly skilled and possesses quite awesome strength.”

By the age of 16 he was in the first XV, a rare achievement for a colt. By the time he left in the summer of 1998 his reputation was firmly established. Peter Allen, the master in charge of rugby at the time, wrote: “Never before have I seen one player inject so much fear into the opposition and dominate so many games with a combination of size, speed and strength.” He scored 22 tries in his last season, narrowly missing out on the school record.

Ian Martin, Allen’s successor, has been at the school for 11 years and followed Sheridan’s progress. “Even at the age of 13, Andy always had this driving ambition that he wanted to be an England international. He was the most focused boy I have known,” Martin said. “At that time the concern among the staff was that he was lifting too heavy weights, risking injury to his lower back. He would listen, but the next week he was back in the gym. He wanted to be the best he could. Sides were genuinely frightened coming here.”

His exploits have generated an immense pride and excitement within the school, where rugby was first played in 1859 and which fields 33 rugby teams, involving more than 450 boys, more than a third of the roster.

Sheridan is a role model. There is one glaring omission, however. One of Flatman’s England shirts adorns a wall of the sports hall, as do other mementoes of pupils who have achieved various honours. But there is a space, rather a large one in fact, waiting to be filled.

Image: vxbabsscdulwichcollege.htm
Pity he's a Pom but this giant is going to have an even bigger impact on Rugby Union in the years to come.


It is really great to read articles like these. Thanks.
I agree, Kandas.

At 26, his best propping years are still to come.

If anything destroys his career it might be the Pom media, who are never shy to put their own on a pedestal.
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