When Eddie Jones announced his England squad to tour South Africa earlier this year, the groans from north of Hadrian’s Wall could be heard as far south as the Midlands.
Included in Jones’ 34-man squad was one Cameron Redpath.
The son of legendary Scottish scrum-half Bryan Redpath, who turned out 60 times for Scotland in a career spanning a decade, Cam was the latest in a line of young players identified by Jones as the future of the England side.
It was a season which began at school, not as a professional player at a Gallagher Premiership club, with U18s rugby and A Levels primary among Redpath’s concerns, not forcing his way into senior international recognition.
Nevertheless, that’s just what the former Sedbergh pupil did in a rather momentous 2017/18 campaign.
“I guess it was a whirlwind, in a way. I went on the South Africa tour with the [England] U18s a year early. Before that South Africa tour, I was on school tour, too, to New Zealand, so I didn’t really have a rest and then went straight into my season with Sedbergh and was named captain of the side.”
“That in itself was a privilege, just being named captain of Sedbergh, as it is such a massive school for rugby. The one thing that really sticks out to me is that everyone in the team bought in and it wasn’t like we had a number of individuals, we had a whole team where everyone could do a job and they were all capable of winning a game with a moment of skill. As captain, that made it very easy for me and I got on really well with the coaches and all the staff. It just seemed to be a great year, winning everything, including the Rosslyn Park 7s, the Daily Mail Cup and the Sedbergh 10s. It was a special season.”
“Then for me to be playing in the Anglo-Welsh Cup, the [England] U20s and then getting the senior England call-up, it just topped it all off.”
Redpath made his senior club debut at the age of 17 in the Anglo-Welsh Cup, playing against Worcester Warriors, whilst his bow at U20 level came against Wales in the Six Nations, where the centre capped off the impressive achievement with a try.
“A lot of it was a learning experience, like my first game in the Anglo-Welsh. I tackled a few lads too high and got handed off, something that wouldn’t really happen as much at school, so I learnt a lot from that. Then the U20s games, you’re playing with people like Gabs Ibitoye, [James] Grayson, [Fraser] Dingwall. I’ve played with Dingwall for years and he’s really developed his defence, so playing 12 and 13 with him was really good to do and he helped me massively.”
“Then the England call-up. It was a shock, really. I’d done a few training sessions with them previously, just to get a bit of experience, but then Eddie [Jones] called me after the Sedbergh 10s, just asking me if I’d be interested in going. He said it wasn’t definite, but would I be interested. Obviously, as a schoolboy, I was a bit shocked, but he said it would be a great opportunity to learn from the likes of Owen Farrell and George Ford and that the opportunity could open up for me in the summer.”
“After that, I just kind of thought it was probably not going to happen. It might happen, but probably won’t. Then I was at school, the squad was announced, and I was in it.”
“I was there two weeks before I got injured and I loved it. It was a great experience and I managed to room one time with George Ford, which was pretty cool, as he’s been a role model to me growing up.”
“That’s it really, a bit of a whirlwind year, where everything just seemed to happen! The opportunity to learn from people who are better than me and higher up, like Owen Farrell and George Ford, was great, and then more of the same in the U20s with Gabs [Ibitoye], Marcus Smith, James Grayson, Fraser Dingwall and people like that.”
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Of course, with a father who has been around the block as both a player and a coach, those England senior and age-grade stars are far from the only influences in Redpath’s fledgling career.
“My dad has been the biggest influence on my career. My mum and dad. I’ve been through a lot with my dad and I’ve watched him grow as a coach. When he was at Gloucester, I used to go and watch them train and be around that environment, when I was about 10 years old. Then it was the same when he was at Sale, so I’ve kind of grown up around rugby and watched him play and coach.”
“I went to the 2003 Rugby World Cup to watch him and I can’t really remember a lot of it, but we’ve got photos and videos of me, my brother and my sister all going to Australia for the World Cup. My dad and my mum have definitely been my two biggest influences and inspired me the most, because they’re always there for me. Family always come first.”
“My coaches at the time when I turned 16, too, so Warren Spragg at Sale, Simon Mulholland at Sedbergh and John Fletcher with England. I’m not a huge fan of coaches who tell me I played well even when I haven’t done, and I guess at schoolboy level that is quite common because they don’t want to upset you. Those three would be honest with me.”
“In my last year at Sedbergh, I built a really good relationship with Simon Mulholland and he was great with me. We could trust each other. If he was doing something the players didn’t like in training, I could tell him, and he would say that’s fine, we’ll change it. He was the same with me. If he felt I was doing something wrong or not playing well, he could tell me straight-up and I’d listen and change.”
“Fletch brought me into all the England stuff and actually brought me up a year early. I was just starting to get involved with the Scotland U18s, but then I had shoulder surgery and missed out on most of that. When I got back from the surgery, Fletch brought me into the England U18s as a 16-year-old to train with them, as well as playing for the U17s, so he had a big impact.”
“And then Warren Spragg at Sale. Last year was my third year with Sale U18s, although I didn’t actually play much, but I built a relationship with Spraggy very similar to the one with Simon Mulholland, where we could talk about rugby for hours and go into a lot of detail. If I was doing something wrong on the pitch, he would 100% tell me, which I like from a coach.”
“Playing-wise, I wouldn’t look much further than Fraser Dingwall. I get on with Fraser really well and have done for years. Probably Marcus Smith, too. Those two are probably the biggest influences. I’ve not played with Marcus as much as I have with Fraser, but he’s really supportive and always questioning me about what I’m doing and how I can be better.”
“I’ve played with Fraser since I was about 15. We did Scotland U16s together, we went to do Scotland U18s before I got injured and then we did England U18s and U20s, so we’ve developed together, in a way. His defensive game and his attacking game, but particularly his defensive game, is next level. To learn off of him and understand how he understands the game has been good for me and I think I have developed massively just by playing alongside him.”
“He’s a top bloke, too. It’s weird how he understands the game, he’s so smart and thinks so fast, and it’s like wow, how has he done that? He probably doesn’t get the recognition he deserves, but at least with his U20s stuff this year, it’s been more televised, so it’s shown how good his defence has been.”
Another coach who has undoubtedly influenced the young centre is Jones.
The Australian is infamous for his feedback to players, particularly younger guys starting out at international level, and he has already started to put his own stamp on Redpath’s career.
“The one major thing he told me was strength and speed. You need to be fast and strong to be a back in Test match rugby. I didn’t actually do huge amounts with him, so I don’t think he could have seen me that much, but his main message to me was core skills. Make sure you are the best at the them.”
“If you look after them, and you’re strong and you’re fast, you can’t do much wrong. He was telling me to work on the speed of my hand catch and pass, and to stay strong and stay fast, because you need that for Test match rugby. He’d always use those words, too, ‘Test match rugby’! He’s a good guy.”
Unfortunately for Redpath, however, the season didn’t quite have the fairy-tale ending that he had hoped for, as a lateral meniscus tear prevented him from travelling to South Africa with the senior England side and brought about the discovery of something much more serious.
“I went into it thinking it was just a lateral meniscus and then I got told that my ACL had been slightly ruptured for a whole season, which I didn’t know about. They think I actually did the injury against France U17s, over a year ago. After that game I had about three months off before the tours and my knee swelled up, but I just got on with school and as it was the end of the rugby season, I didn’t really think about it.”
“I went on the school tour and it was fine, I went to South Africa with England U18s and it was fine. My knee felt great, to be honest, like there was nothing wrong with it. Then I played a whole season with it and did my meniscus. When they were scanning it, they checked the whole knee and that’s when the surgeon said I needed an ACL reconstruction. It went from zero to 100 pretty quickly!”
To go from the high of being called up by England and signing professional terms with Sale, to the devastating news that you would spend much of your next season sidelined by injury, would be hard to bear for the most experienced of players, let alone one who was still in the midst of taking his A Levels.
“It was tough, and it still is. At the end of the day, you’ve got to understand that if you play rugby, you’re going to get injuries, and the fact I’m so young, this is probably the better time to get it.”
“My gym strength has gone up over the last six months, my rehab has been really good and hopefully when I come back, I’ll be faster and stronger than I was before. The physios at Sale have all been really good and helped massively, and I’ve been doing a lot of my rehab with James Flynn, who also did his ACL. He’s been really helpful, and it’s been good to go through it with him.”
“I’ve just tried to stay positive on it, really. If you’re not positive about it, I think you can find yourself getting quite upset, annoyed and disappointed, so I think the more positive I am about it, the better.”
“To be honest, the last six months have gone fast, so it’s not felt too bad. Obviously, I was gutted to get injured and I am getting very bored of it, but you’ve just got to stay positive and think about the benefits it can bring, like the increase in strength. It is awful and when I saw Marland Yarde do his the other day, I couldn’t watch it over, because I just felt bad for him. I wouldn’t wish it upon anyone.”
“They said six to nine months overall and I’ve done about four and a half or five months now, so I’m aiming to be back for end of November, early December kind of time. I started my running last week and if that goes well and I keep stepping it up, up and up, then I should be on schedule. All it takes is a tight hammy one week, though, and it can be another week or more, so I’m just playing it by here.”
“When I feel comfortable and the physios feel comfortable, I’ll be back playing. I’m looking at closer to six months than nine, which is good, but I don’t want to rush it. I’m just taking my time with it, so we’ll see.”
As with any long-term injury, there is a carrot at the end of the stick and that’s no different for Redpath. His ambitions for the season may have been postponed, but they certainly haven’t been cancelled.
“The main goal is to be a regular player in the Prem. Not necessarily a regular right away, but maybe play a few times in the Prem, bench a few times. Just to breakthrough, that would be my ultimate hope.”
“For this season, getting back fit is the main focus. When I’m back, I’ll see what the craic is. Hopefully I can get some minutes under my belt at the end of the season or with the U20s, who I’m hopeful I can be involved with.”
“We’ve got some talented players in the squad at the minute at Sale, like Faf [de Klerk], Rohan [Janse van Rensburg], James O’Connor, Sam James, Byron [McGuigan], Marland [Yarde] and Denny [Solomona]. There are a lot of big names here. They’re all doing well, so hopefully I can push them and get myself on the bench at least!”
Given the way Redpath has approached his rehab and the skill with which he has embraced every step up in quality to date in his career, it would take a brave man to bet against the centre not making his mark in 2019.
With a Rugby World Cup looming on the horizon, he may have to be patient for the opportunity at senior level with England, but there are more than enough challenges in the Gallagher Premiership and U20s to get rugby fans salivating over what he may well eventually bring to the senior side in the years to come.
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