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Giant prop to test Hayman

NZRU

NZPA     10 Jun 2005     NZRU

It is not often 1.93m New Zealand Maori tighthead Hayman gives away height to an opponent but English No 1 Sheridan will tower 3cm over him when they pack down at Waikato Stadium tomorrow night.

Rarely has a player with just one Test cap -- Sheridan played against Canada late last year -- gone into an international match with such a following.

His 10 minutes off the reserve bench against Bay of Plenty when he turned around the fortunes of the tourists' scrum, have since taken on herculean proportions. The British press suddenly regard the 26-year-old as a genuine Test prospect while the Lions themselves marvel at his raw strength.

"There's no doubt about it, he's a very powerful man," said Sheridan's Sale clubmate Jason Robinson.

"He's certainly got youth on his side and he showed when he came on as a substitute, he showed that power. It helped demolish the scrum."

The 119kg Sheridan's feats in the gym haven't gone unnoticed either.

The big bricklayer can reputedly bench press 215kg, considerably more than any of his teammates.

Lions coach Sir Clive Woodward was impressed by Sheridan's progress, particularly after his Lions selection was questioned in some quarters.

"I'm glad we picked him. I'm disappointed he didn't get a run for England because he is something very special," Woodward said.

"The step up to Test match football from (the Bay of Plenty game) is a big, big step. It's a very competitive position."

England coach Andy Robinson didn't explain why Sheridan, a quality English club lock before switching positions three years ago, had failed to cement an international place. But he said the stage was set for him to prove his wares.

"He's going to have the opportunities and it's down to him," Robinson said.

"But certainly if he scrums every time he gets a scrum like he did, he'll have a huge impact won't he?"

Sheridan is one of nine players making their first start in New Zealand tomorrow, including the all-England front row, also comprising hooker Steve Thompson and prop Julian White, also renowned for his scrummaging.

So taken are the Lions by the size of the front row, they were compelled to release a media note saying it was the biggest in the team's history, weight a combined 348kg.

A new pivot combination of English halfback Matt Dawson and Welsh first five-eighth Stephen Jones will spark a backline featuring the Irish midfield Brian O'Driscoll and Gordon D'Arcy and the first appearance of elusive Welsh winger Shane Williams.

Still yet to be selected are suspended flanker Neil Back (England), flanker Simon Easterby (Ireland) -- who replaced the injured Lawrence Dallaglio -- and outside backs Gareth Thomas (Wales) and Jason Robinson (England), who both arrived this week. All are likely to start Wednesday's game against Wellington.

Welsh skipper Thomas was identified early as a leader by Woodward, who negotiated hard to get the veteran winger released early from his season with French club Toulouse.

Woodward needn't have bothered as European champions Toulouse bombed out in the French semifinals over the weekend, ending their season.

Thomas said he hadn't seen a lot of the opening win over Bay of Plenty but had read a lot of negative British newspaper reports before departing.

They put the doubters off their case with the 36-14 defeat of Taranaki on Wednesday night.

"I think they went out and proved that now we've had time to gel, what a force we're going to be out here," said Thomas, who had settled quickly into the team environment.

"The best feeling is being around players you don't otherwise have a chance to play with, guys who you've been brought up to play against."

Robinson was desperate to add to his three Tests on the wing for the 2001 Lions against Australia.

"This is the one everyone wants to be on, playing in New Zealand," he said.

"It's 45 players into 15 shirts so I have to do my bit to impress. Hopefully by the end of it your name will be in that test team.

"And we won't be happy unless we go away as winners, it's as simple as that."