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Brad Shields talks to RugbyPass

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'To be completely honest with you, I do feel pressure to perform'

As a demonstration of walking the walk, the five stitches currently above Brad Shields’ left eye seem extremely appropriate.

By his own admission, plus the initial assessment of his new boss David Young, Wasps’ newly-signed back-rower is a man who values action some distance ahead of words.

The player England fast-tracked at bullet train tempo into their summer line-up underlined this point by earning a first appointment with an English needle and thread during training, courtesy of teammate and fellow Kiwi Ambrose Curtis’s knee.

That is not to suggest that Shields is the strong silent type – in fact he comes across as a relaxed, likeable, down-to-earth bloke. Nonetheless, it is impossible to avoid the contrast between his calm, understated assurance and the rapid-fire animation of his predecessor in Wasps’ No.6 shirt, James Haskell, aka the Archbishop of Banterbury.

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Regardless of off-field persona, it is what happens the other side of the whitewash that matters. And every indication during Shields’ Super Rugby career suggests, like Haskell before him, the former Hurricane will become a highly influential player and leader for both Wasps and England.

Certainly this is how Dai Young views things after two weeks working with the first of his two big-name summer signings from the land of the white cloud.

“Brad is very serious about the things he does and wants to do them really well,” Wasps’ boss said. “I met (Northampton and former Hurricanes DOR) Chris Boyd at the Premiership launch and he couldn’t speak highly enough of him.

“Chris said Brad was, if not the best then one of the best he’s ever coached. It’s a pretty high recommendation really when you think of who is on that list.

“Brad has still got to prove himself in this environment and his mentality is that he has to gain the respect of his teammates – he wants to show them what he can do.

“He’s not talking a lot in training at the minute, he’s not leading from the front he wants to earn his respect first.”

Shields during Wasps’ training

Shields is open enough to admit that a few nerves are kicking around, which he believes his Wasps debut, which seems likely to come in Saturday’s home game with Exeter, will dispel.

“To be completely honest with you, I do feel pressure to perform,” he acknowledges.

“Sometimes pressure brings the best out of you. I just hope the pressure is channelled in the right direction. I know once I get on the field and I make my first carry or my first tackle then everything will be gone and it will be like riding a bike again. I can’t wait to get out there.

“Nerves are good though because it shows you care about something, which for me is this team. I want to do really well and I don’t want to let anyone down.

“I have been off for a few weeks now – a bit longer than what I expected as I wanted to come over a bit earlier.

“But I’m glad I got a really good training week under my belt last week. I got some good fitness and some good technical stuff.

“I am feeling pretty confident to go out there and see what I can do. Hopefully my lungs pull me through the game.”

Shields, whose parents are both English-born and now live near Reading, joins former Maori All Black winger Curtis, New Zealand international fly half Lima Sopoaga and another ex-Hurricane, Jimmy Gopperth, in Coventry.

He says having a few familiar faces around the place helped persuade him to opt for Wasps ahead of a number of other Gallagher Premiership clubs who expressed interest in clinching his signature.

“I texted Jimmy a few times and he spoke very highly of the club,” he said.

“I made sure I crossed all the Ts and dotted all my Is, got information and did my due diligence and he was very helpful in that process, as was Nathan Hughes.

“I knew once the decision to come was made that it was the right one.

“Now Ambrose, Lima and I will bring our personalities and try to bring a few subtleties to the game.

“We also have to make sure whatever we bring is done without stepping on anyone’s toes and make sure we fit in as much as we possibly can.”

You sense Shields is not looking much beyond an opening two months which will pitch him into seven consecutive Premiership and Heineken European Cup contests.

However, November then brings an autumn series, including the prospect of facing New Zealand and their crop of outstanding players – a number of whom are recent Hurricanes teammates.

Brad Shields during the England training session held at Kings Park Stadium, Durban

“It’s not something I’ve thought about too much, but it would be nice to play against them,” he says.

“I faced the haka for the New Zealand Barbarians, and I didn’t know the traditional one they did.

“But it’s quite cool, as while it gets them pumped up it gives you some energy as well. I’ll maybe be able to give you a better answer about how I’ll feel after it happens, if it happens.

“If you watch a game hard enough you know how players play and you pick up their traits. Maybe I could bring some finer details, but there are some special players who will play in both teams.

“It tends to be the case that no matter how much you study them and how much effort you put into how they play, x-factor players can always do something different on the field.

“So at the end of the day what matters is how you play and trying not to get spooked by the shadow that’s cast by another team.”

This pragmatism appears essential to Shields make-up, which as Young suggested has its roots in the need to earn his peers’ respect through example.

“I’d never throw my weight around,” he says. “If something needs to be said I ‘ll say it, but you’ve got to earn people’s respect rather than come in and be the guy who is chirping away or you’ll quickly get a cold shoulder.

“The first couple of weeks is all about getting down, doing my work and making sure I understand everything before I try anything else.

“I’m just trying to slowly build into the team, although obviously a game is different, and I am going to go completely balls-out as normal.”

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'To be completely honest with you, I do feel pressure to perform'