England U18s: “Our ultimate aim is to play at the highest level.”

Anthony WatsonDavid SisiTom Smallbone

Anthony Watson                        David Sisi                       Tom Smallbone

With plenty of focus placed on the potential of England’s U20 players, at The Rugby Blog we wanted to find out more about player development amongst the U18s. So, we went to Sunbury and caught up with full-back Anthony Watson, number 8 David Sisi and prop Tom Smallbone, all products of London Irish’s academy who have represented their country in the last 6 months. Here’s what they had to say:

BC: How did you all first get into rugby?

AW: I started out playing for Effingham Under 6’s, I was playing in the B team and I think I got the ball and just ran with it.

DS: Well I’ve always been a bit of a mutant! I started with club rugby from about the age of 11 and just went from there really.

TS: For me I started here at London Irish Amateurs when I was 4, I played in the centre which was very short-lived, before making the natural transition into the front-row.

BC: In terms of getting into the academy here at Irish, how did that come about?

AW: Well my brother (Marcus Watson, Irish and England 7s) was already in the gold group so my Dad sent over an e-mail to ask if I could be included as I’d just stopped playing football over at  Wimbledon Academy, and they offered me a chance and I managed to get in.

DS: I was spotted through county rugby with Hampshire, but unlike these two who play in the Academy’s gold group I’m part of the AASE Scheme (Advanced Apprenticeship in Sporting Excellence), which works with the local college next door, and so I compete in the AASE League of which we’ve recently been crowned Champions.

TS: For me it was more of a natural progression having been at the club from a young age. I went along at 13 with Anthony to one of the gold group sessions as a trial for a couple of weeks, and also managed to get in.

BC: As you are all still studying, how do you combine your academic work with training?

AW: I will pretty much train everyday whether it’s with the academy, Monday & Wednesday, or my school, Tuesday and Thursday, with Friday and Saturday off before game day on Sunday. I  study Chemistry, Economics and PE so it’s not all rugby 24/7.

DS: I train from Monday to Saturday for about 2-3 hours a day, including gym work, and then I’ll have two hours of lessons a day as well.

TS: I’m at boarding school over at Harrow, so I’ll come over and train at Irish on Mondays and Wednesdays, and them back at school on Tuesdays and Thursdays with gym sessions and pool recovery over the weekend.

BC: You’ve all played for England in the past few months, how did you manage to break into the national set up?

AW: Well I played with Tom for the U16s, and even we lost two out of our three games they stuck with us! There was a camp in August that some of us got selected to go and then we managed to make the cut for the U18s.

BC: And is it a big step up moving up the age groups?

AW: Physically definitely, and it’s a lot quicker.

DS: I didn’t play U16s so I was spotted off my performances in the AASE league last season. The U18 coaches John Fletcher and Peter Walton came to our games and picked up a few players, including Will Spencer who was our captain, so it’s a case of performing well on the day.

BC: What about from a scrummaging perspective, how tough is the battle upfront?

TS: It’s majorly intense, and there are some big confrontations, especially for me personally as I’m a year younger which means going out and trying to prove yourself. But that’s what being a prop is all about.

BC: Who are the coaches who really look after your development?

AW: Here at Irish it’s Neil Hatley and Justin Bishop, who are both club legends, and occasionally we’ll work one on one with Dave Williams who takes some of the Gold group sessions.

DS: Up at England along with Fletch and Walts there’s a very big staff in terms of the conditioning and medical teams which is great.

TS: As a prop learning off Hatley  for me has been amazing. I think by the time he retired he had the most Premiership appearances so he’s got a wealth of experience, and he loves his props as well!

BC: And it must be great seeing Alex Corbisiero coming through the Academy here and going on to represent England?

TS: He’s a massive inspiration, and for him t0 be playing in his early twenties for England is brilliant.

BC: Who would you say are your rugby idols?

AW: Definitely Jonny Wilkinson for his work-ethic, and then also Leila Masaga because he’s unreal!

DS: I’d say Lawrence Dallagio just for his level of consistency, and the fact he played Sevens earlier in his career shows how skilful he was as well. And here at Irish I’d say Chris Hala’ufia for his running style.

TS: When I was younger I used to really like Jonah Lomu because he was a bit of a monster, and he’d pretty much bring the boom! But now in terms of props Clarke Dermody and Corbisiero here at Irish and Soane Tonga’huia over at Saints as well are all guys I look up to.

BC: How much interaction do you guys have with the first team?

AW: This summer I think we’ll be integrated more. They’re always very welcoming and open to giving out advice which is great.

DS: At AASE as we’re here full-time so we see them a lot, and I played in the LV Cup earlier this season so I’ve played alongside some of them which was a great experience. It’s just a very good squad with a very friendly atmosphere.

BC: What are your aims for over the next few years?

TS: I think getting into the England U20s right now is very important and then just trying to go from there. But I think the ultimate career goal for all of us is to ultimately try and represent England and the Lions.

AW: More immediately it would be great next season to play some A League games and then try and maybe play for the first team.

DS: Obviously playing for the first team here at Irish before the Lions might be a good start!

BC: Guys thanks for your time.