Henry Arundell: Borthwick visit, next season, the winger he most fears
Henry Arundell has spoken about his meeting with England boss Steve Borthwick last week in Paris and given an update on where he might play next season. The Racing 92 winger has also described the body transformation he underwent during the 2020 pandemic, while also naming the winger who has hurt him most so far in his fledgling career.
The 21-year is currently three appearances and four tries into the one-season deal he agreed with Stuart Lancaster’s Parisian club following the bankruptcy of London Irish following the completion of the 2022/23 Gallager Premiership season.
Arundell, who scored five tries versus Chile in the recent Rugby World Cup, will be eligible for England selection in the 2024 Guinness Six Nations due to the one-year dispensation given by the RFU to players forced to go abroad following the collapse of Irish, Wasps and Worcester.
That availability resulted in the youngster welcoming England boss Borthwick to the Racing training ground last week amid speculation that he could sign with a Premiership club for the 2024/25 season so that he can continue to be picked by his country after his dispensation runs out next summer.
Arundell, though, has told Midi Olympique that there is no guarantee he will be back in the English league next term. Asked by the French bi-weekly publication what Borthwick said to him when they met and what he will be doing next season, he replied: “I haven’t made up my mind yet.
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“For that, I’ll wait a few more weeks, but I was glad to see Steve, yes. He told me he wanted me back. We’ll see… For now, I’m focused on the start of the Heineken Champions Cup and the big game that awaits us against Harlequins: Quins are the historic rivals of London Irish.”
Arundell is enjoying himself at Racing, so much so that he has made a bold prediction as to how their promising 2023/24 season might finish. “I’ve always thought of Racing as the Real Madrid of rugby. The Galactico club. For me, the opportunity to play in the same team as Gael Fickou, Siya Kolisi, Juan Imhoff or Josua Tuisova could not be refused.
“The Top 14 is by far the best championship in the world. Every weekend, you compete against the greatest players on the planet. Everywhere you go, the stadiums are full, the atmosphere is crazy… I’ve played a few international matches and in my opinion, the Top 14 is the league that comes closest to that level.
“My father was at Paris-La Defense-Arena on Sunday night for the match against La Rochelle. Pfffff… He had stars in his eyes at the final whistle. He felt like he’d been to an NFL show. He said the atmosphere was crazy. I’m English. I love my country, our rugby and our fans. But at the stadium, there’s a big difference between 10,000 English fans and 10,000 French fans: the French are a bit crazy, aren’t they?
“I don’t see why Racing can’t do the double. We have got the team. We have the staff. We have a beautiful stadium and passionate supporters. So, why not? When I was 10 years old, I wrote down in a little book what I wanted to achieve: first to play for my academy, then for the England U20s team, then for England; later, playing in a World Cup, being part of the British and Irish Lions… I always carry this notebook in my bag.”
That notebook got plenty of use during the pandemic rugby lockdown as Arundell vowed to muscle up during the layoff. “I had to transform myself physically,” he explained. “Just three years ago, I was playing with the English U18s; I was already fast but above all very skinny. What did I weigh? 85 kg.
“The day the lockdown was announced by the British government (March 2020), I decided to transform myself: I asked one of my mother’s neighbours to lend me a weight bench and so it all started there, in a garage without windows…
“In the afternoon, I would work on my skills and my kicking game in the garden: I would put a bin in the middle of the pitch, run towards it, kick it over and try to get the ball back… I gained 7kgs in a few months. It’s helped me a lot to cushion the impact and develop my rugby, more generally.”
That additional bulk, though, was no use when Nemani Nadolo blew him away in a Leicester versus London Irish game. Asked which winger has hurt him most in his career, Arundell revealed: “Nemani Nadolo, without a doubt.
“In February 2022, I had a nightmare against him. This guy is a monster. That day, he broke the line a few times and I couldn’t knock him down, it’s as simple as that.”
- Click here to read the Midi Olympique Q&A with Henry Arundell