Chris Bentley: There were promising signs in England's defeat against Wales
FOR a boy that couldn't make the team at Caldy under-13s, 14s and 15s, I did really well out of my rugby career.
Known lovingly by my father as 'the little fat boy', I tried as hard as I could but spent my early career rooted to the bench. If it wasn't for a very supportive set of parents standing by me and shipping me to and from grounds all over the North West without getting much time on the pitch, things could have been very different.
Indeed, it took additional assistance from the paternal side of my family – and more specifically dad's rather large genetics – to help! From being the fat lump that stood in as a reserve tighthead, I suddenly grew into the fat lump that was taller than most. After years of being the replacement prop I carved a niche at the front of the line-out as the guy who could push things and wasn't frightened of hitting a few rucks.
With a persistence and dedication to the sport none of my early peers showed, I slowly made it into the team, got picked by county, regional and, at the age of 19, national selectors. I can still recall the moment when I was sat in my nan's front room and the call came in. "Chris, can you get a flight today? We would like you to join the England under-21s' tour of Argentina."
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As an injury replacement for the Gloucester stalwart Alex Brown and alongside none other than a strapping youngster from Devon Richie Baxter, I had made it to the highest honour a young man could.
Once I made it out to South America, the magnitude of the selection began to sink in. I was amongst the best youth players in the world at the annual SANZAR tournament. I returned home a youth international, completed my studies and embarked upon a 12-year professional rugby career that didn't quite see me make the top of the tree but certainly some pretty high branches.
Rose-tinted glasses removed and stepping back to the 19-year-old in Argentina, my debut game was certainly quite an ironic fixture. Having travelled to the other side of the world, I came off the bench against no less than the Welsh!
Looking back now I can't recall the result but do still have the scars to bear from what was a ferocious game when I played opposite a giant of a man who went on to win a few caps for his full national side – Andy Newman if you do ask!
Indeed, it was on a pitch on the outskirts of Buenos Airies that the enormity of the match with our closest rivals came to bear and it is with this experience in mind that I look upon the remains of England's Six Nations campaign.
Without a doubt, the England team will be reeling at what is quite an embarrassing scoreline but I for one took a lot from the game and hope that the England guys do too.
Had Leicester starlet Manu Tuilagi held onto a pass early in the first half and managed to get one away early on the second, there were two sure-fire scoring opportunities that may have changed the completion of the game as a whole. At the highest end of the game, these opportunities can be the difference. Here's hoping Mr Tuilagi carries the rust onto Saturday!
In dissecting the game, the bottom line is that the attacking intent was there and I could see the Stuart Lancaster prototype for England was starting to take effect. Rather than the juggernaut pack of old with an Andrew or Wilkinson to kick the goals, this was a team looking to score tries.
The stats certainly don't look too clever with only five tries in the tournament – and four coming in the first game – but the fact remains England played a huge part in the most entertaining games of the tournament.
In a similar vein to the Chiefs, there is an evolution taking place within a whole playing ethos. As I've discussed previously, this can take time to come to fruition and I'm quite happy for the development to stutter for one more week. With a huge swathe of England players in town as part of the Leicester Tigers contingent that will run out at a packed Sandy Park this weekend, it would certainly do the Chiefs' cause no harm!
Nonetheless, the total rugby blueprint takes time and I really do hope that the powers that be stick with the coaching structure, add a few more Chiefs and we will see England re-established as the best team in the northern hemisphere sooner rather than later.
On the subject of adding Chiefs to the national set up, I do hope that some of the current crop make the plane to Argentina and this year's summer tour. If they do, it looks very apparent they will be trailblazing for some of our academy guys that won the under-20s Six Nations last weekend.
With a second man-of-the-match performance from Luke Cowan-Dickie, Messrs Arnott, Nowell, Slade, Conlon and Hill have all been key figures in soon-to-be-Chiefs coach Rob Hunter's victorious side. I for one can't wait to see them running out on a regular basis for the Chiefs, and indeed we may just see one or two at this weekend's game.
Finally, it now seems like a weekly occurrence but once again I'm happy to congratulate Tom Cowan-Dickie, Alex Brown and Dave Ewers on gaining contract extensions with the Chiefs.
With the latter two guys already blooded in the Premiership, I doubt it will be long before we get more acquainted with Cowan-Dickie senior who is – judging by some of the haircuts over the last few seasons – the most Cornish member in the Chiefs' rank!
Until the next time, stay safe and enjoy your rugby.