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Strettle eyes upturn in fortunes
Huw Richards
August 12, 2010

Three and a half years is a very long time in international rugby, but memories of the way in which Dave Strettle lit up an otherwise dismal England team on his arrival in international rugby in early 2007 means that many followers will have warmly welcomed his selection for the latest England elite squad.

His inclusion, in what Martin Johnson reckons his strongest group yet, follows on from his part as a non-Test player on the summer tour of Australia and New Zealand and indicates that the blond winger is firmly back in the fold after a long spell on the fringes. "I won't feel that I'm fully back until I get the shirt back," he said.

It is two years since Strettle, 27, won the last of his six caps, his chances restricted by a series of injuries, of which the most agonising was the broken foot suffered two days before the start of the 2007 World Cup. Yet he remains philosophical after agreeing a move from Harlequins, his long-time club, to Saracens.

"If I never got near an England shirt again I'd still feel lucky that I'd had the chance," he said. "If you'd offered me the chance to play for England, but get injured two days before the World Cup and miss it when I was playing in the first division for Rotherham I'd have taken it like a shot."

England's recent tour, which took in midweek games against the Australian Barbarians and New Zealand Maori, followed on from a largely injury-free season and came as an ideal opportunity. "There's a chance to show what you can do and spend four or five weeks with the England coaches," he said.

In spite of not making the Test team, he reckons it the best tour he has been on 'both on and off the field', and he emerged from it as a fan of the recent trend to reintroduce midweek matches.

"It means that even if you're not in the Test team, you've got a match to prepare for and having a larger party meant that you got a little more time off," he said. "With a smaller party you need everybody involved in training all the time to make up the numbers. There was more chance to relax, and Perth and Sydney are great places for doing that."

He's aware of the challenge he faces in reclaiming the shirt, with the rise of younger wingers like Northampton's former rugby league star Chris Ashton.

"There are always good wings around," he said. "Before Chris you had players like Paul Sackey, Tom Varndell and James Simpson-Daniel - they were and are good players. You know if you are not in the team, that if the man who has the shirt is playing well you'll have to wait. You have to play well yourself and wait for a chance, in the way that an injury to Jason Robinson gave me my chance."

He is, though, somebody who likes a challenge. That's the reason why he chose to switch clubs after several years at Harlequins.

"I had a great time with Quins, but I'd reached the point where I felt I needed a new challenge - to get myself out of my comfort zone, perhaps." Moving to another London-area club means that his season will start in familiar fashion, with the Twickenham double header on September 4, the first of what he has reason to hope will be many appearances at England's ground over the coming months.

Joining Sarries means he can also look forward to playing at Wembley, but he hopes that his next visit will be as a spectator - as a native Warringtonian he is looking forward to the Rugby League Challenge Cup final on August 28. He missed last year's final, in which Warrington beat Huddersfield. "We had a friendly match against Penzance and I couldn't make it," he said. The Saracens fixture-list has been more accommodating of this year's clash between Warrington and Leeds- a change of fortune he'll hope extends into the new season.

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