As Hartpury RFC pitched up at Pennyhill Park again today, three of Hartpury’s own international stars had another opportunity they never dreamed possible.
Current degree students, Lithuanian winger Jonas Mikalcius (Sports Conditioning and Injury Management, pictured left) and Zimbabwean Jamie Forrester (Sports Coaching), along with Masters student, former Samoa Under-20s lock Ben Chan (MSc Coaching Science), were among a squad of 15 Hartpury players who lined up against England Rugby’s RBS Six Nations squad for the second time in as many weeks today.
And centre Forrester, 22, admitted that it was a dream he would never have fulfilled had he not come to Hartpury to study alongside developing his rugby talent.
He said: “Having the experience of playing against some of the best players in the world is just unreal.
"And it's an opportunity I would never have had if I hadn't come to study at Hartpury. After all, we're the only university side supporting them with their training during the Six Nations. It will be fantastic if we get the chance to help them out again during the tournament."
Jamie (pictured at today's training, below), a product of St John's College in Harare, heard about the opportunities for studying and playing at Hartpury when starring against them for Taunton. Now in the second year of his degree, Jamie is making his mark as a talented centre both for the RFC and for the BUCS side.
He went into the training session with England less than 24 hours after helping Hartpury to a crucial victory over University of Cardiff in the BUCS Championship, where he picked up a nasty gash to his nose.
But despite being battered and bruised, there was no way he was missing out on the trip to Pennyhill Park.
"I got my head in the wrong place in a tackle and paid the price but I was absolutely fine to train today," added Jamie.
"Training with players like George Ford and Jonathan Joseph after watching him run in a hat-trick in the last game is something else.
"They are a lot bigger than us and their passing and kicking accuracy is spot on every time.
"Skills wise we're thereabouts but it's great to see what we have to work on to try to get to their level, both as a team and as individuals.
"It's a bit surreal training with them and seeing what they are working on and then watching them replicate that in such a big match only two days later.
"My parents and my grandparents are English and I'd love to play international rugby one day. For now though I'll be cheering them on against Ireland this weekend."
Hartpury RFC trained with England again today as Eddie Jones’ squad bid to continue their RBS Six Nations winning streak against Ireland at Twickenham on February 27th, when they will bid to build on their two opening victories over Scotland and Italy and move a step closer to clinching the championship.
After a light breakfast and a briefing from the England head coach, they were put through their paces by England and Hartpury’s coaching staff.
This was the third time that Hartpury’s young rugby talent had been asked to assist England with their Six Nations match preparations, having already taken part in sessions at their Surrey training base ahead of England’s matches with Scotland in the 2015 tournament and in the build-up to this year’s Calcutta Cup battle.
A 15-strong Hartpury team took part in a 90-minute training session with England’s 23-man squad before their 15-9 win at Murrayfield earlier this month.
The squad of mostly students again proved worthy opposition for England and gave a strong indication of their own potential. After all, a number of these young players have hopes of one day playing for their country at senior level and securing professional contracts at the highest level.
Off the field. Hartpury had another representative at Pennyhill Park in Sports Conditioning and Injury Management degree student, Dan Peacock, who has been supporting England’s Strength and Conditioning team this week. Dan is currently an intern with Gloucester Rugby’s S and C team, gaining valuable hands-on experience while he continues his studies at Hartpury.
Hartpury Principal, Russell Marchant, said: "This was another fantastic opportunity for our boys and we're proud to be supporting England in their preparations for such massive games in such a high profile tournament."
For all the latest on Hartpury's training session with @EnglandRugby at Pennyhill Park, follow @Hartpury and like our Facebook page.
Hartpury RFC players who travelled to Pennyhill Park: Alex Craig, Will Safe, Rhys Oakley, James Voss, Tom MacDonald, Dan Thomas, Gareth Evans, Ben Chan, Steve Leonard, Luke Eves, Jonas Mikalcius, Jamie Forrester, George Boulton, Jacob Perry, Gareth Thompson, Harry Cochrane.