x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Sheridan, rugby's prop idol

It is hard to imagine Andrew Sheridan sitting at home, strumming softly on his guitar and singing country songs that he wrote.

It is hard to imagine Andrew Sheridan sitting at home, strumming softly on his guitar and singing country songs that he wrote. This is a man who, at 6ft 5in tall and built like a weightlifter, famously provided the cornerstone of the England front-row who destroyed Australia's scrum en-route to the 2007 World Cup final.

But a break after this summer's gruelling British & Irish Lions series in South Africa gave him the opportunity to show his more gentle side and add another song to his repertoire, which he hopes to finally record, one day. Sadly for anyone interested in hearing the giant prop's efforts, he is reticent about performing them in public or releasing them. "It's personal, but if someone particularly likes them, then great," he says. "I wrote a new one during the break so I'm up to 25 songs now.

"Some of it is through experience, mine or other peoples, and other times it's made up. It's something I enjoy away and I wanted to record them, not jazzed up, but guitar and singing, so I have them down." It all sounds unreal, but Sheridan is not your average rugby player. Fearsome on the pitch, he is quiet and unassuming off it. When it come to the sport he loves he pulls no punches in giving himself a job description. "Without being too crude, I'm just smashing into things," he says.

His sport is under a cloud following the Harlequins fake blood scandal, but Sheridan is not quick to pass judgment on those who have erred in life. His sporting heroes include many with tainted reputations. The sprinter Ben Johnson, who was shamed as a drugs cheat after claiming Olympic gold and Mike Tyson, whose rise as a world boxing champion was soon followed by a quick fall and infamy for biting the ear of Evander Holyfield, are both on the list.

And now there is Dean Richards. As a key member of the England pack of the 1980s and 90s, Sheridan admired the former No 8. Yet Richards may now never return to the game after being banned from coaching for three years for his role in what happened at Harlequins. While adamant that cheats should be punished, Sheridan also feels they should not be vilified after serving their time. "Once his ban ends, it's up to him if he decides to come back," he says. "It happened and it was cheating, but it's been dealt with and I think it's time to move on.

"I think rugby can recover; other sports have. But I read Dwain Chambers' book and he served his ban, came back and yet he was still treated like a villain. "Every time he raced and if he won, it was like, 'Chambers has won', in a negative fashion. If the ban was for life, then fine, but don't ban someone for two years and then have a go at him when he comes back." While the remnants of the Bloodgate scandal remain, Sheridan is more focused on getting himself back into top form for club and country. He had a tough opening game of the season in Sale's 16-16 draw at Newcastle last weekend, enjoying an intriguing tussle with the Falcons captain and former All Black prop Carl Hayman.

Bath are up next at Edgeley Park tonight and Sheridan, who started in the Lions consolation Test victory against South Africa, is not one to accept second best. Nor does he want to believe his England place is confirmed for the winter Tests against Australia, Argentina and New Zealand. "You just can't get carried away by the accolades; things can change very quickly for anyone," he adds. "Sometimes it's easy to get into a comfort zone and almost plod on, but I always like to look on the fact that there are plenty of aspects to my game that I can improve upon.

"You never get people thinking your place is guaranteed, for Sale or England. The Lions series was fantastic, but it showed South Africa are the best team now because results show they are the most consistent. "That's what we want as an English team. As individuals you are looking at consistency and we all want that going into the Six Nations next year." The World Cup will follow in 2011, and, after 2005 and 2009, the possibility of a third Lions tour?

"I'm 30 this November and I feel all right," he says. "But it all depends on how well you are playing. The World Cup and three Lions tours would be great, but I like to concentrate week to week. The motivation is still there. "The memories I want are being part of things like this and successful times, winning the cups, the medals." akhan@thenational.ae