- Hooker looks to take hard-earned chance
- “I’m expecting a ferocity that is above Heineken Cup and Premiership level” – Ward
Starting this season as third-choice hooker at Harlequins behind Joe Gray and Rob Buchanan, Dave Ward has enjoyed a rocketing rise to prominence and is now eager to translate his exceptional club form into a solid performance for England Saxons on Saturday (January 25, kick-off 5pm).
Modestly passing off his all-action displays as a reflection of “what Conor O’Shea is doing at Harlequins”, the 29-year-old admitted it felt surreal to be involved in the national set-up.
However, Ward also seemed ready to take advantage of his call-up. Among the replacements for the fixture against the O2 Ireland Wolfhounds at Kingsholm, the hooker – who snared consecutive man-of-the-match gongs against Clermont and Scarlets in the Heineken Cup over recent weeks – feels primed to contribute whenever necessary.
“There’s no way it could have been [on my radar at the start of the season],” he conceded. “I was third-choice hooker and was just looking for any sort of game time, whether that be A League or LV= Cup.
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“There were a couple of injuries, the bounce of the ball went my way and I’ve got the call-up. I’m obviously honoured to be here.
“Quins coaches Tony Diprose, Mark Mapletoft and John Kingston really let us off the reins to go and play our game. I’m hoping that’s what [the England coaches] saw in me and wanted me to bring to the Saxons squad – the ability to play rugby, use it when it’s on and keep it alive while starving the opposition of the ball. If I get any game time this weekend, I’ll be over the moon.
“I’m expecting a ferocity that is above Heineken Cup and Premiership level – [the Wolfhounds] have been training with the national side and they know exactly how [Ireland Head Coach] Joe Schmidt wants to play. They’re going to tear into us from minute one to 81.
“If I get on the pitch for one minute or 80 minutes, I want to show what I can do and hopefully take my club form into playing for the national side.”
A former England Under 18 and Under 21 international, Ward has endured a winding road to regular first-team action. After graduating from age-group rugby, he had stints at Bath Rugby, Northampton Saints and Sale Sharks before a breakthrough spell at Cornish Pirates in the Championship alerted Harlequins to his talents.
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Sheer industry and bloody-mindedness have certainly been big factors in Ward’s recent emergence – and there is no doubt that he savours every moment on the big stage.
Now, conceivably a few more influential showings away from a “childhood dream” of a place in the full England squad, he is intent on taking this chance.
“It’s been a hard road back, absolutely,” Ward finished. “I don’t know whether I appreciate it more, but I do know how hard I’ve had to work to get here.
“There were a few long, hard years – three or four when I wasn’t even playing any rugby. Then I went to Pirates and it was a big turning point – I ended up playing 110 games in three seasons, and got noticed by Quins.
“Again though, my first year at Quins wasn’t a sterling success – I didn’t play in many games but I did train very hard and put myself out there. That’s all you can do – prepare yourself so that when the opportunities do present themselves, you can grab them with both hands.”