Ever since James Grayson can remember he has had a rugby ball in his hands.
The Northampton Saints fly-half first started playing at the age of four when his grandfather took him down to Old Northamptonians and a love affair with the sport began.
“I loved watching it and pretending to be all the players I’d see on TV, I’ve always enjoyed being part of a team and the pressure rugby brings in terms of winning,” says Grayson. “I just love playing with my mates, it’s absolutely brilliant.”
Grayson, who is part of England U20s Elite Player Squad for 2017/18, was picked up by Northampton’s academy as a 13-year-old and his progress has been rapid, making his Premiership debut at the start of the season.
He also made his England U20 debut in last season’s Six Nations and made a telling contribution in the 2017 World Rugby U20 Championship final when sending a fine crossfield kick into the arms of Josh Bayliss to score just moments after coming on as a replacement.
Grayson has also been a key member of this season’s U20 Six Nations side, starting in both the victories over Italy and Wales in this year’s tournament.
By his own admission, he’s living his dream, adding: “it’s always been a goal of mine to be professional.”
An England debut
Grayson’s determination to succeed is evident, as is his pride at playing for his country, they are moments he says he will always treasure.
“Making my England debut U18 debut was special and humbling,” he said.
“It’s quite a strange feeling singing the national anthem and looking up at the stand and seeing your parents.
“It’s hard to describe all the feelings going through you, you think about how far you’ve come, what you’re about to do, you’re nervous and excited, but more than anything you want to enjoy it and cherish the moment and just keep hold of it.”
It's a family affair
Rugby in the Grayson household runs in the blood. His father, Paul won the World Cup in 2003, and Grayson jnr cites family as having had a major impact on his early sporting success.
“One of my first rugby memories is being a mascot and running out with my dad and that was a pretty special moment,” he said. “I then used to play on the pitch after his games and I will also cherish those memories.
“Family has had a massive influence on my career, trekking all over the country, I couldn’t tell you how many miles they’ve clocked up but the support of my mum and dad, grandparents and brothers in helping me travel around the country to training and games, even holding a tackle pad in my back garden, it’s been a huge factor in getting me to this point.”
So what’s it like having a father who is a World Cup winner?
“It’s normal for me,” Grayson replies.
“I’ve never known anything different. I’m pretty proud of everything he achieved and if I have half the career he had, I wouldn’t have done badly. I’d love to follow in his footsteps.
“Dad is pretty harsh on me as you’d expect, we go over my games in detail and look over what I’ve done well and not so well. It’s good to be able to go to him for help and advice; he’s my first port of call.”
Grayson and his team mates take on France this Friday, and he is determined to succeed with this new group of U20s, having been around the set up last season.
“This is a completely different group to last year so we’re looking to create our own memories and history,” he adds. “We have our own goals and we are taking it step by step.”
Several members of last season’s U20 squad are now involved in the senior England set up, and despite being the ‘end goal’ Grayson is not looking that far ahead, instead focusing on the Six Nations and his club form at Saints.
“It’s so nice to see lads you’ve been playing with now performing on the international stage, it sets a goal to try and emulate that.
“First I’ve got to play more with my club side Northampton and perform well for England at U20 level. I really want to succeed with this U20 group and then try and secure a first-team contract. After that we’ll see.”