- Anthony Watson talks about his rugby outlook after four consecutive starts
- England back-three chose rugby over football as a youngster
Who would you rather work for, Stuart Lancaster or Jose Mourinho? For sporting mortals, it’s just a hypothetical conundrum. But for wing/full back Anthony Watson, it’s a realistic question.
As a youngster, Watson was invited to a trial by Chelsea. Fortunately for English rugby, he chose rugby instead. Since then, it’s been a steady and seemingly inexorable rise through the Red Rose ranks.
Indeed, those in search of compelling evidence that the RFU’s youth development programme is in decent fettle need look no further than Watson.
The fleet-footed Bath player climbed through England’s U16, U18, U20 and Saxons sides before being called into the senior squad for last year’s RBS 6 Nations.
Watson then toured New Zealand over the summer, scoring a try in the midweek match against Canterbury-based side Crusaders.
His reward came in the autumn QBE Internationals when he came off the bench to make his debut against the All Blacks before starting the next three matches on the wing.
And who can head coach Lancaster thank for Watson’s decision to pursue the oval ball to such potent effect? His big brother, Marcus, who is now a member of the England Sevens team.
“I was about 12 and Marcus was playing in the London Irish academy and going well,” recalls Watson.
“I was always trying to compete with him as there’s always been some sibling rivalry. I would try and outdo him, so I decided to follow him into rugby.
“At the time I was at Wimbledon’s football academy and Chelsea were interested but I didn’t go along to the trial. I had already decided to switch over to rugby and try to emulate my brother. My dad also pushed me towards rugby and I’ve never looked back.”
Watson’s father, Duncan, was himself handy with a rugby ball, having played flanker for Saracens before a serious knee ligament problem brought his rugby-playing days to a premature end.
His dad’s injury means Watson adopts a philosophical approach for one of such relatively tender years – he turns 21 on February 26.
“Just to be able to play each week is a privilege,” he says. “You’ve got to be grateful and take each week as it comes.
“Dad’s been a massive influence and he still is. He’s one of the most inspirational people in my life. To do him proud is what I try and do every week.
“He has been so supportive. But after games he doesn’t beat around the bush. He tells me how it is and that’s a great characteristic. My whole life he’s tried to make me better.”
Much has been expected of Watson from an early age. His searing pace and athleticism resulted in him being shortlisted for the BBC Young Sports Personality of the Year Award in 2011 but, rather like his Bath and England teammate, George Ford, he has not allowed the tag of ‘prodigy’ to affect him.
Instead, he has grafted his way to the top of the pyramid, alternating between wing and full back along the way. He rounded off his age-group rugby in sensational fashion, helping England win both the IRB Junior World Championship and the U20 Six Nations in 2013.
“It is a huge bonus to have played for the different England age groups,” he explains. “If you look at the number of players who have come through the U20s team, it shows you what a good pathway it is.
“Going from club rugby to international rugby is a huge jump, but playing with the U20s stands you in good stead and has improved my adaptability in terms of playing with different people.
“To be involved in the sort of environment that we had for the Junior World Championship was a great preparation for a senior international series.”
That preparation was deepened a year ago when Watson was introduced to life with the England squad by taking part in training throughout the RBS 6 Nations.
“It was great to be involved and get a sense of what it was all about,” he says. “It’s meant I’ve come into it this year in a completely different way.
“When I first joined the international set-up I was nervous and didn’t know many of the lads. Now I don’t have to worry about that – I can just look forward to getting out on the field and training.
“There is probably more competition at wing now than there has been for a very long time. The strength of the wingers in the England squad is shown by the quality of those who haven’t been included – people like Marland Yarde and David Strettle. That sort of strength is only going to be good for the country.”
Watson describes the four caps he picked up in the autumn as a “confidence boost”, but says much of his inner belief derives from the coaching he has received at Bath.
Kent-born Watson made the move to the West Country from London Irish in 2013, and has been a central figure in Bath’s renaissance as a European force this season.
“Moving to Bath was probably the thing that had the single biggest impact on my development,” he says. “There are some unbelievably good coaches and players to learn from.
“Everybody at the club shares the ambition of getting better and it’s great to see so many of the Bath boys in the England set-up.
“At the club, we just want to get better as individuals and it’s turning out to be beneficial for the national team.”
With his younger brother Callum also having played age-grade rugby for England, Watson is part of a budding rugby dynasty.
But not every member of his family is watching his every move.
“At matches my mum is usually there with her hands over her face, hoping I don’t get injured,” he says.
“I would probably be playing tennis if it was up to her!”This article will appear in the match-day programme for the England v Italy game. You can download the programme from itunes or to order a copy to be delivered click here or call 0808 100 7377.