- Newcastle Falcons No. 8 captains England U20 at Kingston Park
- “We want to be the best decision-makers in the world”
Callum Chick is a markedly measured, mature young man. Even so, his voice is audibly affected by excitement at the mention of Friday evening, when he will lead out England Under 20 at Kingston Park.
Local lad, hometown hero – there are a few headlines in the holster as the 19 year-old No. 8 prepares for an international assignment against Ireland on his club ground.
Laughing, Chick suggests “most of the stadium” will be filled by family, friends and well-wishers from Ponteland RFC, where he took up rugby at the age of six.
Before Newcastle Falcons swooped for him three years ago, the athletic, abrasive back-rower spent a decade progressing through the age-groups of the Northumberland side.
“It’s a small club,” says Chick of Ponteland, around five miles north west of Newcastle city centre. “It’s full of people I went to school and it joins the area together.
“The whole village knows who the rugby lads are and they really enjoy supporting them.
“My parents still live there, so I’ll pop back once or twice a week from where I’m living in Gosforth. My brother plays for the first team too, so I’ll try to watch him when I can.”
Chick’s father, Brian, coached his son at Ponteland for a decade, using one lesson more than any other – “there is no substitute for hard work”.
The mantra has developed a grounded outlook and determined attitude, both of which are paying off handsomely.
Last month, halfway through the first year of his maiden professional contract, Chick impressed during two Falcons first team appearances in the European Challenge Cup against Russian outfit Enisei-STM and Brive.
When skipper Jack Walker was injured in England’s shock 24-6 defeat to Scotland at the start of this month, Jon Callard entrusted Chick with the captaincy for the subsequent trip to Italy. A 42-7 victory followed.
Huge honour to get the opportunity to captain the @EnglandRugby U20s lads on Friday night against Italy! Can't wait to get out on the pitch— Callum Chick (@Callum_Chick) February 10, 2016
“Obviously the first week was disappointing,” Chick admits. We didn’t get what we wanted, but I thought we showed a great deal of character in the second.
“Ireland will be a tougher outfit. It’s our first home game and hopefully we’ll keep going upwards. It’s looking good, but we’ll have to get it right because they’ll come at us hard.”
Student of the game
Chick is quick to highlight a sturdy network of mentors. He name-checks Dean Richards, Mark Laycock and James Ponton from the Newcastle, as well as “unreal” John Fletcher and “approachable” Peter Walton – England age-group gurus with strong Falcons connections.
A short while in conversation with Chick is enough to recognise his intelligence, which unsurprisingly stretches to a strong academic record.
After taking A-Levels in maths, physics and chemistry at Gosforth Academy – “I hate essays and have always been interested in how things work” – he has been granted a place at Newcastle University to embark on a Civil Engineering degree.
Mindful that “rugby isn’t the longest career”, he hopes to start the course on a part-time basis, alongside Falcons duty, this October.
Describing his leadership style as “lead by example”, Chick cites Richie McCaw and Martin Johnson as figures that have let on-field actions speak louder than cliché-ridden speeches.
“Rugby is taking a change”
Still, he harbours intuitive, engaging opinions on the game. With a home World Under 20 Championship on the horizon, hosted by Manchester this June, Chick offers an articulate insight into England’s playing philosophy.
“We want to be the best decision-makers in the world. If we do that, we’ll win most of our games.
Great win last night against Italy! Top performance by all the lads after last weeks disappointment, onwards and upwards to Ireland— Callum Chick (@Callum_Chick) February 13, 2016
“Rugby is taking a change. If you watch southern hemisphere teams, they are fast. Everyone can handle. Everyone can pass the ball and make the right decisions in unstructured play.
“At the end of the day, though, you have to win those contacts. Some elements of structure might be leaving the game, but physicality will always be there.”Kingston Park’s artificial surface will allow both sides to operate with pace on Friday evening. It should be an entertaining spectacle, not just for Chick’s personal fan club.