When Hartpury’s Jaike Carter ran out at Twickenham in front of 83,000 people at the London Sevens earlier this month, it was one of the major highlights of his sporting career so far.
But while a five-try haul made the tournament a personal triumph for Spain Sevens star Carter as fourth top try-scorer, the fact that it coincided with his country being relegated from the World Sevens Series removed some of the gloss.
Carter, 27, first came to Hartpury eight years ago to do a Sports Conditioning and Coaching degree, as well as playing for Cinderford in National League One and for Gloucestershire and England Counties.
After finishing his degree three years later, he secured a professional contract playing for El Salvador in Spain, where he came up against top European clubs playing in the Amlin Challenge Cup.
Living in Spain for three years also resulted in national qualification and he became a lynchpin in the full international XV as well as in the Sevens team that qualified for the World Seven Series.
That meant the chance to travel to Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Dubai, Las Vegas and Hong Kong among others, while his jet-setting with the Spain XV included Kenya, Namibia and Russia.
“When I finished my degree, I decided that I really wanted to play abroad and the opportunity to be a professional rugby player in Spain was too good to pass up,” said Carter, who plays wing, centre or full-back.
“After three years of living there, I qualified to play for the national side and I was incredibly lucky that it coincided with Spain qualifying for the World Seven Series.
“I’m a fast and agile player, so I’ve always had a passion for Sevens. Being a full-time professional athlete is something that every young player aspires to and it was a fantastic life, playing at the top level in Spain and playing international rugby.
“My life was there – from my job to my friends – and I’m fluent in the language. I felt extremely privileged to play for my adopted country.
“In Spain’s first World Sevens Series tournament in Australia, we beat England in the final and that was the best moment of my career up until I got the chance to play in front of 83,000 people at Twickenham at the London Sevens. That was an incredible experience.
“I would love to have carried on playing in Spain but with the financial situation, contracts are very hard to come by, and it was an easy decision for me to return to Hartpury.”
Last August, Carter started a Masters in Coaching Science, alongside playing for Hartpury RFC, helping them to secure promotion into National League One.
Now he’s finished his Masters, he has been offered a job as a lecturer in specialist sport for rugby and he will continue to play for Hartpury as they adjust to life at the higher level.
“Studying and playing at Hartpury has given me so many opportunities,” he added.
“I’ve had the chance to travel the world playing the sport that I love and I’m hoping to carry on playing for Spain when my work commitments allow.
“It’s been a very tough year for Spanish rugby and it was almost inevitable that with all the turmoil going on, they would end up losing their status as a core World Sevens Series team.
“But we beat Japan 35-7 in the London Sevens, who have taken our place this year. Even though there’s a lot of countries pumping a lot of money into their Sevens sides, there’s still a good chance we can re-qualify by winning the re-classification tournament in Hong Kong next Easter. I’d love to be involved in that game.
“I’m really excited about this next opportunity, coaching the next generation of sporting stars at Hartpury and passing on my experience to them, as well as helping Hartpury RFC face their next major challenge – playing in National League One.”
Jaike also helps out with coaching Drybrook rugby club alongside fellow Hartpury lecturers Frazer McArdell and Tim Stevenson and with the UR7s Rugby Academy, nurturing the next generation of Sevens stars.