MANCHESTER // Mathew Tait is finally coming good. The Sale Sharks centre was thrust into the England team at 18, struggled to cope with the pressure and has spent five years steadily building his career. Two crunching tackles from Gavin Henson in an 11-9 Six Nations defeat against Wales on his international bow gave him a tough introduction to life at the top.
Now 23, Tait is still not a regular in Martin Johnson's England team, although he featured in their 2007 World Cup final defeat to South Africa. It is a surprise given the Sale assistant coach Jason Robinson, a former England regular, claimed that Tait is the country's most dangerous attacking runner. Injuries and a desire to play in his preferred role of outside centre have seen him overlooked. Having had to wait 16 months before he added to his first senior cap he has learned the value of patience.
"I was naive as to how big a deal it was at that time," he said. "As an 18-year-old, it's the classic case of the media here that love to build people up simply to shoot them down. "It was hard for a few months then I had to get on with it. I think if I'd had the best game I ever had against Wales I still wouldn't have lived up to expectations. It made me a stronger person and appreciate what's important."
With the Six Nations the next challenge for England in February, Tait is fully focused on domestic matters with Sale. He and Mark Cueto return for the visit to Saracens on Sunday after Wasps refused to play last week's game due to worries over the pitch at Edgeley Park. Tait will be looking to help topple the Premiership leaders and accepts every performance will continue to come under scrutiny. "It goes with the territory. I feel I've been around a lot longer than five years and you just get used to all the pressure and just work hard to do well and keep improving," he said.
"Everyone wants to get to the top, but it takes time. "My target this season is to play as well as I can and help Sale get to where they want to go. If I'm doing that then I have full belief the rest, such as England, will take care of itself. "I've had some great experiences with England, like the World Cup final, but I hope there will be more to come. But I want to win things with Sale too." @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org