IF there is one thing the English like better than celebrating success, it is frolicking in someone else's failure.

'Build them up high and then knock them down low' - a maxim that permeates all walks of life but which, for a myriad of reasons, seems to find its apogee in sporting circles.

We like our sports stars to make good. We want them to win things and, when they do, we want to share in their success.

But, whether through innate jealousy or simple mischief, we also want to see them fall flat on their face.

It's just a game isn't it? And, when something does go wrong, these so-called superstars should be big enough to deal with the blow.

Try telling that, though, to Mathew Tait. The fresh-faced 19-year-old was merrily minding his own business with Newcastle Falcons when coach Andy Robinson decided he was the one player who could prevent England's Six Nations campaign descending into disaster.

Named in the side to face Wales in Cardiff's Millennium Stadium, Tait was paraded in front of the nation's media and turned into something he never claimed to be.

One tabloid dubbed him "the future of English rugby", while a leading broadsheet dismissed all semblance of objectivity and branded him "the sporting superstar England has been waiting to embrace".

No pressure then, just an expectation that, single-handedly, Tait could reverse the downward trajectory of a side struggling to live up to past World Cup glories.

What happened next was, of course, both inevitable and inexcusable. On the pitch, Tait failed to sparkle and was promptly dropped for the rest of England's Six Nations campaign. Off it, the centre was subjected to a torrent of abuse that questioned both his ability and attitude in the most hurtful of ways.

Sports stars need to have thick skins and they need to be able to deal with the inevitable criticism that will eventually come their way.

But, for a teenager who had been playing for his school side less than nine months earlier, the fall-out has left a wound that will take a considerable amount of time to heal.

"It's been the most bizarre month of my life," admitted Tait, speaking with an honesty that suggests he is finally coming to terms with everything that has happened since the turn of the year. "There's absolutely no doubt about that.

"There have been massive ups and massive downs and, at times, it's been hard to make sense of everything that's been happening.

"The high of getting selected never really went away. Walking out at the Millennium Stadium will always be one of the proudest moments of my life and the build-up to the game was everything I hoped it would be and more.

"Obviously I wasn't prepared for what happened next. I've come so far in my career so quickly that I haven't really had to deal with sustained criticism in the past.

"But, suddenly, all sorts of things were being thrown at me from all sorts of angles. I thought a lot of the criticism was over the top, but maybe that's just because I'm not used to being attacked like that.

"It was hard to take - I'd be lying if I said it didn't affect me. I just wanted to get back onto a rugby field to take my mind off everything else but, when I did, the Leicester game didn't exactly help."

The Leicester game - a humiliating 83-10 defeat for the Newcastle Falcons - provided a fittingly tramautic end to a fraught month.

But, by throwing Tait straight back into Zurich Premiership action, Falcons coach Rob Andrew underlined his faith in the youngster's ability.

That faith has been vital in his gradual rehabilitation and, combined with the continued support of his family and friends, Andrew's confidence has helped Tait turn his attention towards the future.

"It's a case of rebuilding and getting my confidence back now," he said. "I know I haven't become a bad player overnight but I've got to prove that with my performances on the pitch.

"I suppose, at times like this, you find out who your friends are and you find out that you shouldn't believe people when they tell you you're great and you shouldn't believe them when they tell you you're rubbish.

"I know I'll always have the support of my family and friends and they've been brilliant with me in the last month.

"I also know I'll always have the support of everyone at Newcastle and Rob (Andrew) and Blacky (Steve Black) have been great with me as well."

Tait's re-emergence was due to step up a gear next week when he was expected to travel to Hong Kong to help England chase victory in the World Cup Sevens.

But, instead, a pulled hamstring and an eye infection mean he will remain in the North-East as his international team-mates travel to the Far East.

Tait will receive a much-needed break over the next fortnight, before helping the Falcons tackle one of their biggest ever games.

Newcastle travel to Paris on April 2 to take on Stade Francais in the quarter-finals of the Heineken Cup and, after everything that has happened this year, a victory there would ensure that Tait's season finishes with a bang.

"It's an absolutely massive game," he said. "It shows how far Newcastle has come as a club, but we'll be going to Paris looking to win.

"They're one of the best sides in European rugby, but we're up against them on merit and we'll see what happens on the day."

Success in the Parc des Princes won't undo all of the damage that was done last month. But it will help restore some of the confidence that ebbed away in Cardiff.

And, with the Falcons determined to allow Tait to rebuild his career in a manageable manner, a gradual evolution on the club scene might even ensure he is not hung out to dry again in the future.