Joe Heyes says it was an ‘honour’ to pull on the number three shirt for Leicester Tigers in his first Gallagher Premiership start at Sale.
The 19-year-old development prop lined up alongside Facundo Gigena and club captain Tom Youngs in the front row on Friday night, and while disappointed with the result Heyes was keen to focus on how he can improve his game.
“It was a great experience,” he said. “I was worrying about my scrums a little bit, because I’m still young and a bit new to it all, so I just wanted the first scrum to happen, and it turned out I’ve got 20 scrums in my locker, so I’m happy with it.”
Wet and windy conditions meant the clash was a stop-start affair, with handling proving difficult for both sides.
Tigers scored the first try through loosehead Facundo Gigena despite playing into the worst of the wind in the first half.
“I know what it’s like to be at that level, and now I’ve had a taste of it I want some more.”Joe Heyes
Heyes continued: “Scrummaging with Tommy and Facundo, international front rowers, it was an honour for me to finally get that three shirt and scrum against some big props.
“There was a big Russian loosehead [Valery Morozov], obviously Rob Webber and WillGriff John, so they’re big, big boys.”
And Heyes, who has started both Heineken Champions Cup and Premiership Rugby Cup matches in his breakthrough season this year, said that the Round 16 league fixture was a step up from what he has experienced before.
“The speed of [the game], and the physicality; they’re both things I’m taking out of it because I’m going to learn from it,” he said.
“I know what it’s like to be at that level, and now I’ve had a taste of it I want some more.
“I feel like I’m developing really well, but I’m not getting ahead of myself, because it’s really easy to.
“I’m staying grounded and level-headed. At the end of the day I’m just a 19-year-old development player, so I can’t be getting too ahead of myself.”
The prop was also keen to pay tribute to England and Leicester tighthead Dan Cole, who has mentored Heyes alongside scrum coach Boris Stankovich.
“They’re pretty big shoes to fill,” Heyes added. “I’m learning from Coley, and I’m trying to get parts of his game into my game; his resilience at scrummaging, his around-the-park effort and work rate.
“I felt like I did my own thing in that game, but you have to respect Dan Cole for going through that 80 minutes every week.
“I had a smile on my face most of the time – when I wasn’t blowing – but [in the end] it just didn’t go our way.”