Following the England Students squad announcement, Mike Stanton, Sports Editor, caught up with Rob Coote, Ollie Claxton and Jamie Gray before they head to Portugal for the first fixture.
Three Exeter students have been selected for the England Students squad playing against Portugal on 24 January. Rob Coote, Ollie Claxton and Jamie Gray of EURFC made the squad following trials at Loughborough.
These selections mean a return to the squad for Coote and Gray following their successful season last year and, sees Claxton’s first call up for the Students’ side.
“It’s a massive honour playing for your country,” EURFC Club Captain Jamie Gray told Exeposé.
“You never know when is going to be the last time you pull on the England jersey, so it’s very special every time.”
“It really sinks in when singing the anthem,” said Claxton, who has previously represented England at a variety of age groups.
“It sends chills down your spine. That’s when it really sinks in that you are representing everyone in England.”
“It [the anthem] builds you up so much,” Coote continued.
“Once you are out there you are trying so hard, you’ve got the emblem on the shirt, the rose, it drives you on.”
The squad is made up of students from all over the country, a considerable contingent coming from the South West, and Exeter is one of the most well represented universities in the squad.
The Exeter boys are looking forward to playing the Portugal international side, who are ranked 22nd in the world on the IRB rankings. Following a close fixture last year, where the students won for the first time, they are preparing for a tough fixture.
“They will bring the same physicality.” said Coote.
“They like to hit the rucks and have some big boys.”
The England boys face a quick turnaround following the Portugal game, getting back from Portugal on the Saturday before flying out to France three days later, but the Exeter boys are confident for the upcoming games.
“It was a huge boost beating Portugal last year,” said Gray, “France are always decent, I don’t know when we last beat them.
“With regards to Wales,” who England Students face on 7 March, “we usually show some dominance against them.”
All three manage to balance studying full-time degrees with their rugby, as well as representing Exeter Chiefs at fifteen and seven-a-side. On the opportunity to represent their country whilst studying, the Exeter trio are very grateful and relishing the opportunity.
“Eight guys got contracts after England Students last year,” said Gray, “I think it’s a really good way to expose players to a higher level.
Turning from international duties to EURFC 1st XV, Exeter currently sit second in the table behind Hartpury, the boys admitting to a few performance hiccups.
“I think if we had beaten Bath everyone would be a lot more relaxed because we would be level pegging with Hartpury,” Claxton said.
“If we had beaten them all we would have to do is win our remaining games but now we have to chase bonus points.
“We’ve got four games left and I think if we win them and pick up some bonus points we can come top.”
Exeter face first placed Hartpury in their next game, which falls in the week of the England Students game meaning the squad will be missing three of its key players. Despite this they are very confident.
“We’ve got a great squad and fantastic individuals,” said Coote.
“We know how they play so we will look to cut them off wide and force them in, we got an interception try from that last year.”
“It was a close game last time we played them,” said Gray. “It will be an 80-minute game, it won’t be won in the first half.”
The 1st XV also welcome Bath in the annual varsity at Sandy Park on 19 February. Having lost to their rivals earlier this season, the men in green will be looking to make amends at their marquee derby match and are hoping for yet another large crowd.
“Even if you don’t like rugby it’s a great place to be, great atmosphere and everyone’s a bit merry!” said Coote.
“It’s the whole uni coming together for a celebration,” continued Claxton.
“It doesn’t matter if you are a rugby player, football player, hockey player; everyone is willing the team on and raising money for charity.”
Despite a demanding close to the season and admitting to putting pressure on themselves to perform, fully expecting to reach the BUCS semi’s and hoping to improve on last year’s outstanding season, the three internationals are relaxed, quietly confident as they joke about Claxton’s impending initiation to the England Students and Jamie’s England Sevens prospect; the big second row stating “He may have a run out,” followed by laughs from the other two.
With England Students caps hopefully coming for the trio in Portugal the boys from Exe will definitely be ones to keep your eye on in the future. And what better opportunity than the Varsity to see them and the rest of the 1st XV in action, just a month away?bookmark me