FORMER Accrington Stanley midfielder Paul Grayson could play his part for England in their big clash against South Africa in the Rugby Union World Cup on Saturday.
Chorley-born Grayson will be a replacement in Perth against the 1995 World Cup winners. But he could make an impact in an expected physical game if star Jonny Wilkinson is targeted by the South Africans as he was in the last clash between the two sides. Wilkinson hobbled off injured - and Grayson will be in the wings if that happens again.
Grayson was at Stanley when he was 18 and played around a dozen matches for Accrington's second string.
"I remember him playing for Accrington reserves but most of his shots were over the bar!" joked Stanley's current youth team manager Dave Thornley who was Crown Ground chief at the time.
Grayson left Stanley without breaking into the first team, switched sports to rugby with Preston Grasshoppers and never looked back. But he did leave good memories with Stanley's youth and reserve team manager Dave Hinksman, now a scout for Leicester City.
"Paul came to us from Lancashire School Boys. He played for Lancashire at both rugby and football but he decided to give football a go and we signed him. He was just too old for the youth team at the time who went on to win the Lancashire Youth Cup. But he played in the reserves and did well. He was probably worth a try out in the first team.
"I remember him playing one game against Morecambe reserves where he scored and he was outstanding. We played him as centre forward and he annihilated the defence - much like he does in rugby. He was always going to be successful at whatever he did. He wasn't the fastest, and I am sure he would admit he isn't the fastest rugby player on the pitch, but he had drive and determination and always gave 100 per cent.
"He played around 12 games and then came and apologised and said he was going to play rugby instead. And he has never looked back. Chris Henry, who coached Peter Ebdon, the World Snooker Champion last year, also played for Accrington around that time as well! At least I could see they would be successful - even if it was in different sports!"
Grayson, whose tip for success is "there's no substitute for hard work", is currently at Northampton where he is the Saints' record points scorer. He made his international debut in December 1999 against Western Samoa aged 24 at Twickenham and from 1996-99 was an England regular. However the emergence of Wilkinson pushed Grayson out of the ranks.
The fly-half spent three years in the international wilderness after England crashed out of the 1999 World Cup against South Africa in the quarter-final stages. But the 32-year-old worked his way back into the fold and helped England to an 84-6 victory in their opening Pool C match against Georgia in Australia last Sunday. He scored four conversions as he came on for star man Wilkinson as England coach Clive Woodward experimented in their 12-try demolition. However the big test is Saturday's match.
England face Samoa at Melbourne on Sunday, 26 October and, in the final group game, are up against Uruguay in Brisbane on Sunday, 2 November.