Ted Hill will fly out to Argentina on Thursday thrilled with the breakthrough year he packed in since he last played at the World Rugby Under-20s Championship. The back row walked off in Beziers last June as a beaten finalist, England losing out to host country France in the final.
What lay ahead in the aftermath was supposedly a year on the fringes at Worcester, a year in the wider first-team squad where he would serve his apprenticeship, learn the ropes and be patient in the hope of getting a look-in at some future stage.
That never quite happened, though. Not only did he effortlessly earn his stripes in becoming a cornerstone of Alan Solomons’ Gallagher Premiership team, he leaped from obscurity to win his first England senior Test cap at Twickenham at the age of 19 just eight weeks after debuting in the league away to Leicester Welford Road where he scored the match-winning try. Incredible.
His cap was only a six-minute spin at the end of a contest England won 35-15 after trailing at the interval. But all the same, the fact he was suddenly rubbing shoulders in rarified surroundings more usually suited to older players demonstrated the very encouraging impression he had quickly made on Eddie Jones.
Hill is not hedging his bets on securing a World Cup training squad call-up. “It’s a tough question… we’ll see, we’ll see,” he told RugbyPass.
What he will admit as he settles down to prepare for a series of under-20s pool matches versus Ireland, Italy and Australia in Santa Fe is that he couldn’t have wished for a better learning ground than being part of a Warriors set-up that successfully battled against relegation.
In making 18 appearances and starting 11 times in Worcester’s 22-match campaign, the now 20-year-old became adept at thinking quickly to survive and thrive, a buoyancy enormously helped by his short stint inside the England inner sanctum.
“There were two stand-out moments this season. That cap and then away at Leicester, which was my first Premiership game. It has just been amazing. That England call-up was unbelievable and it was great to spend some time in there and learn what that was all about.
“I’m hoping at the moment to just keep improving, to keep pushing on. I’m massively keen to keep on showing the England guys what I can do and then hopefully push on to get a second cap. We’ll see how it goes.
“One of the main things (in playing Test rugby) was just how it was another step up, just another level up from the Premiership in speed, the collisions and the way the guys get themselves ready for the matches. Not just on-field stuff, but off-field when it comes to recovery. It’s just another step up, which is a great experience to have.
? Squad update | England men U20s have updated the original 28-player group for the World Rugby U20 Championship.
— England Rugby (@EnglandRugby) May 28, 2019
“At the start of the season I was just hoping for a first-team breakthrough in some sense, but didn’t realise to any sort of extent that it would be as much as it has. I have been very lucky to have been thrown right in at the deep end, which has been great. I really enjoyed it and if someone had said eight months ago (this would have happened), it would have seemed very strange.”
What helped was the unforgiving environment he found himself in. If Hill was playing at club that was winning more matches than it lost, he could perhaps have trundled along in a less pressurised situation, a small cog in a big wheel that was taking care of itself.
As part of the Worcester back row, though, there was no room for pleasantries. Not when they were weekly under the pump in search of the wins that would eventually keep them clear of relegated Newcastle. “It was a great experience,” he enthused.
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“Players can get into teams where they are always winning and they don’t really have to fight as much for their wins. It’s great to be involved in a team where there has to be fight, where we are not at the top. It’s great to in that environment.
“When you’re not always winning, you have to go through the tough times, you have to understand what losing is like, you have to know that with losses you have to learn and get better. It’s all really good to be a part of.
“It’s a really important thing to show that you don’t have to be a top four club to show what you can do. There is something to be said about someone who can perform in a team where they have gone through struggles. It’s not where we want to be as a squad, but it shows we have got a great academy set-up and loads of names who have come through.
“I’m usually pretty hard on myself (after a defeat). I think everyone is. You wouldn’t come across anyone in the game who wouldn’t beat themselves up for a couple of days. If I individually haven’t had a good performance, it would take me a good half week to a week (to recover).
“It usually takes me the amount of time until I can show a good performance. It plays on your mind if you haven’t shown the best of your abilities. It’s not the nicest, but it’s a great experience to have and to learn the things you need to work on if you haven’t shown what you can do.”
It was only December, the month after he was capped by England, that Hill got around to signing his first first-team contract for Worcester.
— Worcester Warriors ?? (@WorcsWarriors) April 28, 2019
He had joined the Warriors’ junior academy at the age of 14 and was part of the 2017 England under-20 set-up as a 17-year-old, a foundation that stood him in good stead when it eventually came to fast-tracking his way to club and country first-team prominence.
What further helped the 6ft 4in operator was his bulk. So, too, some quiet words of encouragement from coach Solomons. “I’m 110/111kgs. I’m lucky, I have been quite big since I was young, quite tall and just being in the environment where you are surrounded by good nutritionists who give you good advice on what to eat, you really get all the information you need.
— Worcester Warriors ?? (@WorcsWarriors) May 28, 2019
“The main thing for me is just knowing when you’re in an environment with so many good players – and in my position, so many very good back row players – that if you switch off for a second, people will be biting on your heels.
“You have got to constantly push and from a learning point of view, Saracens away was a great experience. We played some really good rugby in the first 60 minutes. We were winning at half-time but they showed strength as a team to revert back to their plan and take the win.
“One of the major bits of advice is you have got to be consistent in your game. You can’t have one big performance and then (drop off)… you’re only as good as your last performance. He [Solomons] always says that if you’re performing one week and then you’re not the next, you can very quickly get a reputation of being flaky and inconsistent.
Take a look at last week's #TrainWithYourHeroes session at @WorcsWarriors. Local winners @WolvesRUFC U12s had a tour of @SixwaysStadium as well as a session led by stars @Ted_Hill26, @JackSingleton14 and @GJvanVelze #GallagherPrem? pic.twitter.com/fCdceiG9Yr
— Gallagher UK (@GallagherUK) April 16, 2019
“To be on top of your game when it comes to training and recovery is so important. You have got to take every week’s training seriously because it’s that old saying, we want to train how we play.
“In the Premiership you can’t go to sleep for one second, otherwise people will capitalise and make the most of your mistakes. It’s a great experience to know that you can’t fall asleep because you will be caught out.”
WATCH: The fifth episode of The Academy where the RugbyPass documentary series on Leicester Tigers visits Worcester’s Sixways
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