Will knows the grass is Greener up north!

Will Greenwood.
Will Greenwood.
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BORN IN Blackburn and having risen up the ranks at Preston Grasshoppers, World Cup winning rugby union ace Will Greenwood is every inch a Lancastrian.

But a Lancastrian is a northerner and Greenwood would love to see Yorkshire Carnegie back in the top flight - and back in Europe.

Greenwood, 42, enjoyed his career high in 2003 when England defeated Australia in the World Cup final. But while his roots lie in Lancashire, there is a certain soft spot for Yorkshire as part of a passion for northern rugby as a whole.

After finishing his career with six years at Harlequins - a spell which followed four years with Leicester Tigers - Greenwood and his family now live in Maidenhead. London is much more familiar territory than Leeds. But the White Rose-Red Rose rivalry was a common theme of Greenwood’s upbringing which means a soft spot for both counties divided by the Pennines.

Greenwood told the YEP: “I still remember going over and watching my old man play over at Headingley in the County Championship when the County Championship really was the be all and end all.

“John Burgess was my Lancastrian coach and I remember in my first Roses match his final team talk was ‘Lancashire, the north, England, in that order!’ That puts it into context and my old man got me playing in the Lancashire Schoolboys against Yorkshire Schoolboys game four weeks after breaking my collarbone. They were the games I wasn’t allowed to miss and I’ve always thought, genuinely, the England team is a strong one when it’s full of northerners. Without stereo-typing, they have got grit, they are tough, and when you stand back and look at the World Cup winning lot, the northern connections are very, very strong.”

Highlighting the importance of a thriving Yorkshire Carnegie, Greenwood reasoned: “There was a danger about 12/18 months ago when Sale were having a bad season where you thought ‘how is it going to be possible not to have a northern representative in the Aviva Premiership?’

“It’s such a shame that a club like Orrell disappeared, that Waterloo nearly disappeared and there have been some major casualties when you head into the Midlands - the Moseley’s, the Coventry’s, that had really fallen off the face of the earth to a degree.

“But these are clubs that should be nurtured and supported and there’s as many kids playing rugby if not more up north than there is down south and Yorkshire is one large county that’s should have a team representing it in the top division.

“I know Ian McGeechan has been doing some great things in renaming Leeds to Yorkshire Carnegie and they’ve got a five year plan - to play Premiership level rugby and with that European level rugby. It would be great to have a packed Headingley hosting Toulouse.”

Greenwood would be more likely to commentate on such an occasion these days with the six-foot-four star currently working as an analyst for Sky Sports amongst other roles. Another key role, is parenthood to ten-year-old Archie, eight-year-old Matilda and five-year-old Rocco. Greenwood laughed: “My career now is ‘what time am I picking the kids up from school’ or ‘what time is his swimming lesson’, ‘when’s his judo lesson’ and ‘when’s her music lesson!’”

But there’ll never be any forgetting rugby union’s obvious influence - or that love-hate relationship with Yorkshire.

Reflecting on his career and any standout Yorkshire memories, Greenwood mused: “It’s nice at Christmas as you sit there and have a beer with your old man and you sit and chew the fat and it does fill you with a tremendous feeling of pride to see how well the record of the 2003 team stacks up against any side in the world, of any era. But I take a great amount of pride in my Preston Grasshoppers days and I talk as much about my debut for Preston Grasshoppers 4ths when I played with my old man in the back row.

“Rugby has been my passport to life really, it has taken me to the most amazing places and I’ve met the most wonderful people along the way and most of my mates have come through the oval ball.

“For a Lancastrian who is a dyed-in-the-wool Lancastrian - it has to be said that most of my schoolmates at Sedbergh were actually Yorkshiremen!”

*Will Greenwood is supporting AEG Grassroots Rugby teams in 2014. Head to www.facebook.com/AEG to enter an initiative for your chance to win bespoke Canterbury kits, a top of the range AEG ÖKOMix washing machine and a training session with rugby heroes.”

The group included Peter Drinnan, from Wetherby

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