Millfield School continues to produce England Internationals

Jonathan Joseph (second from left) and Mako Vunipola (far right), pictured here with England U18 teammates in 2009, played together at Millfield

The Autumn Internationals are in full swing and there is a phenomenal wealth of talent on display, but one school which must be feeling particular pride is Millfield. Situated in Somerset, the school boasts four ex-students in the current England set-up: Captain Chris Robshaw, Anthony Allen, Jonathan Joseph and Mako Vunipola. The school’s record of producing talent is outstanding with over 20 students playing professionally, dispersed around the Aviva Premiership, the RFU Championship, the RaboDirect Pro 12 league and various high-level academies.

So what’s the secret behind Millfield’s success? Excellent resources and coaching staff obviously play a part but, after having the pleasure of talking to First Team Coach, Jon Brimacombe, it was clear to see that the school has an underlying philosophy of how students should play. “Millfield rugby encourages boys to play with the ball in their hands and to make decisions about the situation in front of them”. There is a freedom to this approach which has a refreshing focus, not only on enjoyment and expression, but it is accommodating to those new to the sport.

It was slightly surprising to find out that, “many players have absolutely no background in rugby”. However it was quickly made clear how this coincides with Millfield’s belief around the sport, “they choose rugby because they recognise the likelihood that they might enjoy playing it here”.

There is an element of risk in this approach as Jon was ready to highlight, but it is clear from their success that Millfield breeds top sportsmen. So to what extent has the school had an effect on their current internationals in terms of influence and development? Aside from their natural skills, was Millfield the catalyst to their success? England and Leicester Tigers centre, Anthony Allen, kindly spared a few minutes of his time to answer these questions.

Allen’s experience relates to Millfield’s belief around the freedom to play the sport, “I managed to achieve all I wanted to at that age in both my rugby and my education with the flexibility and understanding of the school”. While Anthony already knew he wanted to play professionally, the school provided the perfect balance between rugby and education.

In addition to being the catalyst to his career it seems to have provided the focus and grounding for him to succeed, “I knew I wanted to play professionally before going to Millfield. It was just that Millfield was the best option for me to try and achieve that as well as getting all the right help and guidance with my education alongside it”.

Millfield certainly had a great impact on the development of Vunipola and Joseph. As Brimacombe recalls, “Mako Vunipola spent most of his first year of senior rugby in the second team. He simply lacked the level of fitness that we require to play our game. However when he became fitter his handling, footwork, physicality and sheer joy at playing rugby had a huge influence on our squad”.

It wasn’t a clear road for Joseph either. “He had a very modest first season until we reached the sevens. From there his improvement was stratospheric”. As Director of Rugby, John Mallett, a former England International himself, pointed out, “It is worth remembering for all aspiring rugby players these stars have not always been destined for the top”.

Millfield’s success is undeniable in terms of developing players. Nevertheless you would think a future international Captain would stand out above the crowd. I put this question to Brimacombe regarding the England captain, “Chris Robshaw stood out for his attitude and selflessness. He was a good player, who was committed to improving, but I would not have seen him as a future England captain. It is wonderful to see him reach such heights; nobody deserves it more than him”. It is consistent performances for Harlequins embodying Millfield’s style of play that have led Robshaw to where he is now, so as he leads England out at Twickenham on Saturday, the giddy heights will be a friendly reminder to all the hard work behind him.

Does Millfield have something special about it? The answer is no, something which John Mallett was quick to reaffirm, “There is no magic answer. We have a proud sporting history as a school and we have lots of children who are passionate about playing sport, a good number of whom are rugby players. These children are encouraged to follow their passion and to enjoy what they do as a part of their school education. An expressive, yet grounded approach that encourages enjoyment continues to benefit Millfield’s outstanding record of producing Rugby players of the highest quality.”

By Jono Frank

17 thoughts on “Millfield School continues to produce England Internationals

  1. During my time at School we played Millfield a fair bit, and amongst us, and several mates from other schools that played them there was always a bit of resentment at their mercenary attitude to player recruitment whereby they went and hunted out the best athletes at their age groups and got them, in on scholarships.

    However a decade and a half later, whilst their dominance of schoolboy sport is still a result of their recruitment policy, you can’t deny that it also bought a lot of very talented individuals into sports they would never have been involved in without being picked up by Millfield, and for that we should be grateful.

  2. I have to reiterate the fact that their success mainly comes from handing out substantial scholarships to outstanding athletes from other schools! If you have all the best players……

    Having said that, they do have amazing facilities and coaching.

    1. I have to say that this is a little unfair on Millfield from the perspective that a lot of private schools with top sporting reputations go searching for the top athletes. This is simply what schools do – it raises their profile and thus attracts the fee-payers. They are businesses after all.

      Many of them with far more to offer than Millfield. The point of this article is that they make a better fist of producing top players than their contemporaries. They don’t have any access to better players.

      1. If you’re in the Westcountry and excel at sport, the chances are that you will end up at Millfield on a tidy scholarship. Can’t say what goes on in the rest of the country.

        Don’t get me wrong, I am not criticising them for doing what they do, and I fully appreciate that they are a business just like every other private school in the country, and I guess the academies too now. However it is far easier to produce top talent if you have the pick of the best athletes.

  3. Idiocy, this is the problem with English Rugby, the England players should derive from a mixture of schools, from Watford Grammar to Pimlico Academy to Millfield, we won’t compete with the best until this is achieved.

    1. And how exactly would that happen? Some kind of quota system? Now that would be idiocy

      Unfortunately, too many schools put little emphasis on sports and rugby even less. To have centres of excellence like Millfield can only be a good thing.

      As Staggy says, they draw in people from all backgrounds who excel at sports and offer scholarships to those who cannot afford the fees. Given that I’m sure the quality of education is pretty decent as well, I cannot see how this is bad

      Each region in England could do with something similar.

    2. That’s the point – a lot of the players who end up in the Millfield 1st 15 aged 18 where probably kicking a football round a council estate aged 14.

      Millfield is not an example of an elite school from a background perspective, because the boys there come from all over – they have scouts who go to athletics trial etc and offer scholarships to boys who they think may have potential as a rugby wing for example.

      They are not the only school of course, schools like Dulwhich have long plucked local athletic talent out of local state schools.

      Like I said before its annoying as an opponent, because a team you beat at under 15’s will suddenly have 2 of the fastest wings you will have ever played at by the time you play the, at the next age group, and a couple of props who look the wrong side of 30.

      However it does mean that players who would never have come near a rugby ball get the chance to play the sport, and get a top education as well. And that’s a good thing.

  4. This situation is great if they are actually offering a decent education as well.

    Having been heavily involved in the Scottish Schools game, which is desperatley trying to keep up with and compete with the English system, scholarships are handed out by certain schools a lot but an education is not.

    Some schools pick up these boys telling them that they can go far in the sport with their help and this simply is not true.

    Some of the players are simply not good enough to go pro when finishing school and whilst they do a good job on the school circuit when they go up to the next level they stumble.

    And due to the school not offering them a proper education and only using them for their rugby services they suddenly find themselves without a rugby career and if they are lucky maybe one or two A levels.

    All of a sudden they have very few options.

    This is unfair on the players and the schools are only thinking about that win ratio and the schools name in the sunday paper.

    Also some schools have gone into overdrive with their recruitments.

    Schools which have been average for years and years have gone as far as recruiting 20 odd players and have even plucked players from South Africa and New Zealand who come over for a season after finishing school in their native countrys due to the different age cut off dates.

  5. Regarding comments on bringing the best pupils from other schools on scholarships to millfield; this isn’t actually the case, I was at millfield for
    Over 11 years from the prep school right to the senior school, whilst at the prep school we were coaches at such a great level that when we because competitive in senior school fixtures we were dominant, if you look at all millfield years they are dominant in every age group and sport. Facilities are execellent but by saying they basically pay to be the best is not always true. I also played England hockey and cricket for Warwickshire and I was on no scholarship as you could say I was home grown

  6. Just to add the only reason we lost at younger age groups is because each term there are about 10 sports being played. It dilutes the quality of the younger sides ten fold.
    It does however allow students to support their chosen sports.

Comments are closed.