Henry Arundell: England teenager set to face Australia on Saturday
|Venue: Perth Stadium, Australia Date: Saturday, 2 July Kick-off: 10:55 BST|
|Coverage: Live commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live, the BBC Sport website and app.|
Henry Arundell shot to fame on social media’s small screens.
If that 90m score was the 19-year-old’s entry into the mainstream, he has been making similar waves in rugby’s backwaters for a while.
In February, a couple of months after his debut for London Irish, he slashed open Scotland’s under-20s in similar style.
Three months later and England head coach Eddie Jones was in the stands to watch Arundell light up an end-of-season dead rubber against Wasps with a impudent chip, chase and score.
This weekend however is going to be about the biggest stage, rather than the small screens and modest venues.
Jones, having initially picked Arundell as an apprentice player for the tour of Australia, has named him on the bench for the first Test against the Wallabies in Perth.
Even his old coaches, who have seen him shine long before the cameras arrived, are surprised by his rise. But, then again, they are also used to Arundell confounding their expectations.
‘For a first year out of school it is pretty incredible’
Patrick O’Grady first saw Arundell in action as a 14-year-old, freshly inducted into London Irish’s Academy.
“You see those long-range tries now, but he would do very similar things on the field from a very young age,” O’Grady told BBC Sport.
“Straight away you could see he had that natural athleticism, pace, power and ability to beat defenders.
“I remember when we were playing in the under-18 Academy League. Henry was playing two years up, and he scored two tries, in successive weeks, which were carbon copies of each other.
“The first was away to Bristol; he got the ball on the edge, chipped and chased over his opposite wing, caught the ball and rounded the full-back to score in the corner.
“A week later did exactly the same Exeter away.
“To have the skill and soft touch to drop the ball on to his foot, execute a perfectly weighted kick, get on to the end of it and have the footwork and pace to beat the last defender, all while playing against lads a couple of years older, was pretty eye-opening.
“What I didn’t foresee though is him having an impact in the men’s game so quickly and significantly.
“To see what he had done in his first year out of school is quite incredible.”
There are the obvious attributes. The stuff that goes viral.
But O’Grady has seen more. The sort of things that Jones will want down under.
“From the highlight reels, people see the pace, power, footwork, strength, the step and acceleration, but if you strip that away, there are a lot of finer skills to his game,” he said.
“His catch-pass is very good, he can kick off both feet equally well, and in pressure situations they come to the fore. I definitely see him adding a lot to the team, and not just in that obvious way.”
‘It was two even teams – until Henry got the ball’
Sean Turner is the director of rugby at Beechen Cliff School in Bath.
He coached Arundell before a change in Arundell’s father’s job combined with a scholarship offer took him, aged 14, to London.
“We are just a normal state school in Bath that takes its rugby seriously,” Turner said.
“Henry joined a very good year group, but even then it was clear he was one of the better ones, if not the best.
“He would get the ball in the backfield and would have the ability to look up and scan the space and see where the weaknesses were to attack.
“That is remarkable for someone at that age.”
After Arundell switched to Harrow School, Turner then had the task of trying to nullify the threat he had helped hone.
“We would come up against him at the Middlesex Sevens or Rosslyn Park Sevens,” Turner remembered.
“It would always be two even teams until Henry got the ball and then he would do something ridiculous.
“Our boys would shrug their shoulders because there is not a lot they could do about it.
“If we lost though it would not be so bad because at least Henry got to win.”
If his old team-mates struggled to get to grips with Arundell on the pitch, he made sure he kept in touch with them off it.
Beechen Cliff’s team was strong even without his talents. Mackenzie Graham and Archie Maggs have since signed for Bath. Will Morris is excelling in university rugby with Durham.
When Beechen Cliff won the under-15 Schools Vase competition in 2018 at Twickenham, Arundell was on their side, even if he was no longer in their side.
“He would always come and chat with us after we played Harrow and he was in touch with all the boys before that final in 2018, giving them lots of encouragement, making sure they knew he was with them,” said Turner.
“There is zero ego to him, he’s a great lad.”