Balshaw looks for new start

Iain Balshaw is ready to put the dark days of an injury-ravaged career behind him and light up Gloucester's bid for Guinness Premiership title glory this season. [more]

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Iain Balshaw is ready to put the dark days of an injury-ravaged career behind him and light up Gloucester’s bid for Guinness Premiership title glory this season.

And the England World Cup winner, one of northern hemisphere rugby’s most lethal strike-runners, has vowed to rediscover a sense of enjoyment and freedom that encapsulated his game before injuries struck.

Balshaw’s Premiership debut for Gloucester – the club he joined on a two-year contract from relegated Leeds earlier this summer – will arrive at a packed Kingsholm on Saturday against another of his former clubs Bath.

It represents the start of an arduous, winding road towards next year’s World Cup defence in France, when a fit Balshaw would inevitably feature prominently for England.

Red rose boss Andy Robinson is an admirer of the 27-year-old Lancastrian full-back or wing, and there can be little doubt he will start in England’s season opener against New Zealand at Twickenham on November 5.

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Robinson showered praise on Balshaw following England’s miserable summer tour of Australia, when the new Gloucester recruit started both Tests in Sydney and Melbourne.

And any return to his blistering form of the 2001 Six Nations campaign – Balshaw scored five tries in four games – would enhance England’s 2007 World Cup prospects.

He knows though, how quickly the hand of fate could return and grind those ambitions into the dust.

Balshaw made his England debut more than six years ago in the same game as fellow World Cup heroes Mike Tindall and Ben Cohen.

But while Tindall and Cohen now share more than 100 caps, Balshaw’s total of 26 reflects prolonged absences from the Test arena due to injury setbacks.

It would be no surprise if his spirit had been broken long ago, but excitement and enthusiasm have accompanied his switch to Kingsholm, where Gloucester expect big things from a player with a big reputation.

"I was just unfortunate with a couple of injuries I had," said Balshaw, displaying a remarkable lack of bitterness.

"There are players who get injured, and some are lucky that they don’t – it is just one of those things. You have to stick out your chin and get on with it.

"I think I got a bit down about my rugby at times, and I thought too much about it. I’ve come to Gloucester to express my rugby, enjoy myself and be successful.

"International selection will take care of itself. You have no control over who they pick and why they pick them – you have just got to go out and perform the best you can for your club.

"Everyone wants to play for their country, whether you are uncapped, got one cap or more than 100 caps like Jason Leonard.

"Because I missed so many games last year, I am just here to play rugby and take every match as it comes," he added.

"Obviously, I am aware there is a World Cup coming up, there is an autumn Test series and there is a Six Nations, but they are out of my control.

"I have just got to make sure I play well for my club, and that is when the England coaches will select you."

At some stage this season, Gloucester should be able to field arguably the most exhilarating back division in the club’s illustrious history – Balshaw, Tindall, Olly Morgan, Anthony Allen, James Simpson-Daniel, Ryan Lamb and Peter Richards.

Simpson-Daniel’s serious shoulder injury has put that prospect on hold, but the days when Gloucester possessed a mighty pack and little else have long gone.

"I don’t mind where I play," said Balshaw. "I just want to get the ball in my hands as much as possible and enjoy myself.

"Gloucester played a good, quality brand of rugby last season, and when it clicked, they were putting teams away.

"If we knuckle down and focus on what we’ve got – there are some exceptional young boys here, added to the senior lads – I think we will be on a par with anyone else in the country.

"I played against Dean Ryan (Gloucester head coach) when I was 18, but the drive is still there and you can see that with the players he has brought in, what ambitions he’s got.

"Everyone pushes each other hard in training because they all want to strive for success."

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