New England Under-20s cap Sam Lewis provides a perfect example of the value of persistence, enjoyment and making the most of a second chance.
Leicester Tigers academy forward Lewis gained his first age-group cap in the opening game of this seasons Under-20s Six Nations in Italy and then started the win over Wales – just a few short seasons after thinking his chance of a rugby career had gone.
Lewis, who played in the backline until he was 15, said: “I was a full-back originally so I got to do all ‘the fun bits’ and then I got a bit taller and a bit slower so I moved into the forwards!
“I played at No8 in my first year at Denstone College, then back row and second row.
“I was in the Tigers set-up but I got in quite late and didn’t make it in as a full-time academy player at 16.
“But I went away and played at school, then I was picked to play in the under-18s in the Academy League and it went quite well.
“The feedback was always ‘Just go back to school and play your rugby’. I was enjoying it and said I would continue playing and if it doesn’t work out then I’d have to think about doing something else, going to university or whatever. But then I got a chance and it’s great to be involved.”
Lewis is now used by Tigers junior academy manager Jamie Taylor as an example to young players of what can happen even if they miss out on the initial selection process. He has played in the Premiership ‘A’ League and Anglo-Welsh Cup this season and joined four team-mates in gaining selection for England Under-20s.
“I probably feel a bit more responsibility now with being older and playing a bit more and now being part of the 20s,” he said. “Hopefully I can do enough to have a role in the team and it would be nice to think the team can do well.”
Ged Glynn, Tigers’ head of rugby operations, said: “Sam was in a group just below academy level at Denstone College and, due to the positive relationships we have with our schools, we kept tabs on him and he eventually earned his place.
“He developed from a gangly winger or full-back to a centre more at home in contact and now into an England Under-20s forward.
“Those lads have played in the Anglo-Welsh Cup and in the ‘A’ League, and most of them have been getting regular league rugby through a developing relationship with Loughborough University which is working well for us. It’s good to see them involved in the England ranks and it’s a good opportunity for all of them.”
Lewis started in the second row of England’s win over Wales and added responsibility for the lineout as the forward pack laid the platform for an impressive win.
“It was my first start and it was good to get out there,” he said. “I was presented with the shirt before the game and that was a big moment.
“It was a good game to be involved in. I called the lineout and I’m happy with that.
“We’re two weeks in, we’ve won two games, then had a rest week, then it’s back for Scotland away. It would be nice to keep going after wins in the first two games.”