It’s now three and a half years since Ben Morgan was last seen in the England white. Losing to Australia and being eliminated from your own World Cup was quite a hammer blow. However, becoming one of a gang of four who never played Test rugby again after that harrowing exit was quite another devastating consequence altogether for the No8 to absorb.
He’d won all 31 of his caps during Stuart Lancaster’s 46-match reign. But as soon as Eddie Jones took over, the attitude was “thanks but no thanks”. Morgan – along a trio of others from that forgettable Twickenham night against the Wallabies (Brad Barritt, Geoff Parling and Sam Burgess) – was cut loose. Surplus to requirement at the age of just 26.
You can be sure the exclusion hurt. Morgan would have felt his prime years at international level were still ahead of him. However, time has proven a healer and while he hasn’t completely given up hope on ever earning a recall, his perspective on his England career is now one laced with pride that he got there in the first place, not regret that it all came to a sudden stop.
“International rugby is the pinnacle of your playing career and looking back I feel very grateful for being about to represent my country,” he told RugbyPass at the end of the yet another Six Nations championship he watched unfold from the outside.
“I feel very lucky to have done so and I’m very proud of my achievement to be able to do that. Ultimately that is what I dreamed of when I was a little lad just kicking the ball around. I’m very proud of what I have done. I’m certainly not giving up. You can only keep working and keep hoping you can get another opportunity, but ultimately if it doesn’t happen I’m very proud of what I have achieved.”
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Gloucester winning this year’s Premiership would surely put him back in the shop window for Test consideration. The club has taken a shine to the second tier European Challenge Cup during David Humphreys’ reign as director of rugby. That cup was lifted in 2015 and they were beaten finalists in 2017 and 2018.
However, finally making the long-awaited breakthrough in the league is now the target. Ever since a fifth place finish in 2013 under the previous regime, inconsistency has left Gloucester tailed off at the business end of every season. Three ninth place finishes, one eighth and one seventh have been the outcome, no campaign producing more than the 11 victories secured last term when they finished seven points off Newcastle, the fourth place semi-final qualifiers Newcastle.
He's usually knocking down defences for @gloucesterrugby but @Ben_J_Morgan8's company @No8Scaffolding is helping us demolish the old bus station to prepare for #regeneration. pic.twitter.com/otJA3eM0if
— Paul James (@cllrpauljames) January 28, 2019
Now, though, they can dare to dream. Currently fourth with nine wins in 16 outings, they have every opportunity to feature in the trophy shake-up provided they maintain the February form that saw them beat defending champions Saracens and last May’s runners-up Exeter on consecutive weekends at Kingsholm.
As a local, nothing would give Morgan greater pleasure than delivering the trophy won by nine other clubs since the league first got going in 1987/88. “It would be absolutely huge. Gloucester, the club, has a lot of prestige, a lot of history and this playing group want success. We do talk about it and the Premiership is a very tough competition, but ultimately if you can get into the top four position it’s anyone’s game in those last two games.
“That is all you can really hope for, finishing in that top four to give yourself a chance of winning. We would certainly like to do that as a team,” he continued ahead of Saturday’s showdown versus Wasps. “The Premiership is a pretty special league. It’s ultra competitive and you have only got to look at the league table to see that – you have teams from third all the way down to about eighth or ninth within a result or two.
“It’s pretty hard to predict where we are going to sit come the end of the year, the league is so tight. But there is certainly a lot of confidence in our squad. There is a lot of players that are playing good rugby. In the past couple of years we have been working towards where we are getting to at the moment where everyone is on the same page and knows our game plan going into a game.
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— Gloucester Rugby (@gloucesterrugby) March 22, 2019
“Things are quite simple. Everyone is able to buy into it and be on the same page. That is a credit to our coaching staff but also our playing squad buying into the same thing, the same sort of vision. For the most part of the year we have got the rewards from that and the last game against Harlequins was one of our best of the year. Everything clicked and it was great to see.”
What especially pleases Morgan is the club’s patience in trying to get things right. A more trigger-happy owner than Martin St Quinton could have long ago tired of Humphreys’ efforts to make a lasting league impact since arriving from Ulster in 2014, but the administrators have been prepared to bid their time and gradually improve.
“He [St Quinton] is a switched on guy and he has got Steve Vaughan in as CEO. They have taken a careful approach to how they think and they don’t want to be just flipping on results. You have got to give people an opportunity to develop and hopefully the way we are going they will see reward for being patient with it.”
Morgan’s knows all about the virtue of patience. Roll the clock back 11 years and his outlook wasn’t so promising. Having left school at the age of 16, he became a plumber who was made redundant in 2008 at a time when his rugby wasn’t really going anywhere as no academy was interested in taking him on.
A chance outing for Cardiff’s underage side changed everything, though. Scarlets snapped him up and he was an England international when it came to trekking back across the Severn bridge to hook up with Gloucester in summer 2012.
With @HucclecoteRFC U12s, our @GloucesterRugby #TrainWithYourHeroes winners, overcame adversity & embraced their merged team ‘Hucclewick’ to ensure they could always field players. Watch last week's session led by @Billy_12trees, @Ben_J_Morgan8 & @tc_savage #GallagherPrem?
— Gallagher UK (@GallagherUK) March 19, 2019
It’s a story he breezily relates to any inquisitive youngster, such as those he met last week from the Hucclecote and Painswick under-12s who had won a Train with Your Heroes competition run by Gallagher, Premiership Rugby’s title sponsors.
“It helps massively when you get someone who believes in you and it is important, but as an individual you can’t afford to give up, you have got to keep going. You never who is going to watch you and you never know how late or how early your break is going to come.
“I would say for the younger guys who come into the academies, that is when you work twice as hard because that is just a door open. To be able to go through it you have to be able to show your worth by putting in the work.”
Morgan’s stint in Wales, along with knowing what it is like to lose your job, was why he kept a close watch on the saga where Scarlets were threatened with a merger with Ospreys before agreement was reached to allow both clubs continue.
“It would have been a big loss. You would have got players who were going to lose their jobs, which is never nice to see. I’m very grateful for my opportunities down in Wales and have got very fond memories. Scarlets-Ospreys are the sort of Christmas fixtures you always look forward to. All the local people are up for that game the most and it has always got the biggest atmosphere. It’s a special game to be involved in.”
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