Just before the England squad jetted off to Denver, Oli Davis caught up with Exeter Chiefs wing Jack Nowell to see how preparations have been going for the upcoming home Rugby World Cup.
Few would have heard of Jack Nowell two years ago, myself included, yet the Exeter Chiefs man has been on a meteoric rise to the pinnacle of English rugby. Already Exeter’s talisman, the heavily tattooed (he’s just got another one, by the way) Cornishman is quickly becoming an integral part of Stuart Lancaster’s plans for a rapidly approaching Rugby World Cup.
Needless to say, a home World Cup is one of the most special occasions in any sporting career and Nowell’s is no different; “I doubt any of the boys will forget this in a hurry, anytime you play for England is an honour and to have all of our games at Twickenham is amazing”. However, when looking at England’s group, a pool including Australia, Wales and Fiji, it is clear the hosts have a tough task on their hands. “Hopefully I can get into the final squad first, and then I can start to think about the individual matches,” replied Nowell when asked about the upcoming challenges.
The 22 year-old is in pole position for a starting spot on one of the England wings, he was in breathtaking form during the Six Nations, scoring a try against Scotland and two against France. In particular, Nowell cites the France match as a “different class” due to its all-out attacking nature. Whilst accepting that England will not play such an expansive game plan in a tight World Cup match, it is clear that a player of Nowell’s speed, strength and agility is thriving under the attacking structure in place.
“It’s great to play alongside the likes of George Ford, Mike Brown and Anthony Watson,” he said. “I really enjoy playing a running brand of rugby and I relish the opportunity every time I pull on the England jersey.”
The Chiefs also enjoyed a fine season, only just missing out on the Premiership playoffs. Subsequently, Henry Slade and Luke Cowan Dickie were drafted into the provisional England squad and are primed to stake their claims for a place in the final squad. With Geoff Parling also on his way to Sandy Park next season, Nowell is enjoying the company of some familiar faces at Pennyhill Park. “Its great to have my mates here with me, I’ve known Luke [Cowan Dickie] since we were 5 so its pretty special. Travelling is relatively difficult but we’ve done it a few times now so we’re used to it.”
Last season was not all plain sailing for Nowell, a knee operation ruled him out of the summer tour to New Zealand, pushing him down the pecking order amongst other England wingers Jonny May, Anthony Watson and Semesa Rokoduguni. Fortunately Nowell found form in time for a return against Ireland in the Six Nations.
“That operation was a tough decision to make at the time, a really difficult period for me but I’m grateful for the time I took to recover and train. The England coaches gave me a goal to come back where I left off and that way I would have a strong chance of regaining my place. It was made easier by being able to play on two good knees as opposed to one, the operation got rid of a lingering pain I had been dealing with.”
The England squad left for Denver on Friday to continue preparations for the World Cup with the focus, in all likelihood, being a continuation of the strict fitness training that has been the extent of preparations thus far. As for Nowell, barring an injury, it is highly probable that he will be included in the final squad. Two years ago he was a try-scorer as he helped the England Under 20s win the Junior World Cup Final, Nowell and England fans will be hoping he can do the same but this time on the biggest stage of all.