Ability to adapt is key to success for Strettle’s latest England call

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Opportunity has knocked on the door of David Strettle so often it is a wonder the door hasn’t been thumped off its hinges.

The 29-year-old’s rugby career can be characterised by the amount of times a gift-horse has presented itself.

Sometimes he has greeted it with open arms, as he did when Rotherham Titans fell into administration in 2004 and the young colt seized his chance to step up to the first team and begin demonstrating the skills that are now on display at the sharp end of European club rugby.

Then there was the time, or more pertinently times, when England came calling and Strettle was given the chance to translate club form onto the biggest stage of all. Grasping that opportunity when it has arrived on his doorstep, has not been as easy.

If he comes off the bench today against Scotland, Strettle will earn his 13th cap for the Red Rose, nearly six years after winning his first. As comings go, this is his fourth, never mind second.

And it is here where Strettle is perhaps guilty of hanging on to opportunity for too long.

He carried a hernia injury for much of the second half of the 2011-12 season, but having forced his way back into the England reckoning for a third time, he was reluctant to loosen his grip.

“I got called up last year and the hernia wasn’t that bad, so I hung on for that,” he explained.

“And then as soon as the Six Nations was finished I was into the business end of the season with Sarries.

“Then it’s the tour to South Africa and I thought I’m not missing this. It gets to the point where you have to miss something.”

So on advice from club and international coaches, Strettle decided on his return from South Africa to go under the surgeon’s knife, not knowing if the damage he had done to his left side would be irreversible.

It wasn’t, thankfully, and after a successful surgery and rehabilitation he was back flying down the wing for Saracens, and now back, once again in the England squad.

“My left side was just getting weaker and weaker to the point I was operating at 50 per cent,” he said. “The medical staff realised when they saw how weak it was that they could really get it all sorted and get me back in better shape.

“I feel so much better for it now, though. I feel balanced. It’s only when you get it operated on you realise how bad it had got.

“It’s a difficult situation though, every one wants to get the chance to pull on the England shirt and make it their own. There’s so much competition for places in the back three.

“Mike Brown did really well in the autumn (in Strettle’s absence). Every one wants to put a marker down.”

Strettle would love to be England’s right-wing of choice, but with Chris Ashton in front of him he knows he has to be versatile if he wants to hold down a position. So he has more often than not figured on the left for England.

“I’ve played right wing all through my career not necessarily through choice, it just goes back to my days at Rotherham,” said Strettle, who joined the Titans as a junior during his first year at Sheffield Hallam University and played there for four years.

“Michael Wood was the first-choice left-wing so I played on the right at Rotherham and made that position my own. When I went to Harlequins, Ugo Monye was left-wing so having played right-wing it was only natural that I stayed there and the same happened at Sarries; right-wing was the position that was open.

“Chris Ashton has come in and doesn’t like playing on the left.”

If there is an opportunity to make the England left his own, Strettle is determined to do everything in his power to do so.

“You need a bit of time to adjust to it, but playing on the left has gone well,” said Strettle, who has not crossed the whitewash for England since his debut against Ireland at Croke Park in 2007.

“There’s not a massive difference between the two wings, but when you’re at this level if there are any differences you’ve have to iron those out. If you’re half-a-yard short on the turn, or you’re up for a high ball with the wrong lead foot, then it matters.”

That Strettle is even talking about playing for England still fills the Warrington-born flyer with enormous pride.

Had it not been for the unfortunate circumstances surrounding Rotherham’s near collapse in 2004 his life might have taken a different path altogether.

“It’s funny how opportunity presents itself,” he laughed. “Every cloud has a silver lining and if they hadn’t have gone into administration a lot of lads like myself wouldn’t have got the chance.

“So much in sport is about believing you can do something and unless you get the chance you can’t answer that question. There were players like Tom Eaton, Lee Blackett and myself who were all playing well, helping Rotherham beat top division one sides. That was my break.

“It was actually Mike Schmid who was coaching down at Esher, who told Quins there was a young lad there who he thought they should sign if they got promoted, which they were going to do because they’d not lost a game.

“So Dean Richards signed me. He said he wanted to sign me after the Quins-Rotherham game, a game in which I don’t think I even touched the ball. It was just a pure forwards game in the teeming rain at Clifton Lane.

“When you look back on your career you realise there’s little turns of events like the administration that allows you to be in those positions at the right time.”

This Six Nations could be another of those moments for Strettle.

nick.westby@ypn.co.uk