From National One obscurity to England scrum half, it has certainly been a whirlwind year for Exeter Chiefs youngster Jack Maunder.
The 20-year-old was thrust into the spotlight and came of age last season, playing his part as the Chiefs became Aviva Premiership champions for the first time – but he still insists it does not feel ‘normal’ to be part of England’s best domestic team.
An Exeter University student and a butcher’s son, Maunder always had hopes of breaking through last season but the impact he made was far beyond his imagination and has catapulted him into international reckoning.
Like father like son
Like many current Premiership players, Maunder has rugby flowing through his blood.
His father, Andrew, was also an Exeter scrum half but now he is better known as the local butcher.
The trade is as important as rugby in the Maunder household with Andrew the third generation of his family to run the business – and he ensures both Jack and his brother, Tom, help out.
It is that grounding which has served Jack so well and it is no coincidence that he studies business at Exeter University, with an eye firmly kept on a career post rugby. "I would love to work in business one hundred percent"
“I don’t know if I can call him [Andrew] a butcher because I hardly see him chop meat but it’s the family trade,” Jack said.
“My grandad was the previous owner so he and my dad often drag me into business conversations and, now I am studying it at university, I get dragged in even more.
“My dad and I speak about it quite a lot and brainstorm ideas to grow it. It is nice to have something away from rugby to talk about. I would love to work in business one hundred per cent.
“I want to start off slowly though, get some work experience after university and work through the system. Who knows, one day I might be chopping meat.
“Me and a couple of the boys I am living with at uni went and sold sausages to a load of freshers students, we had some puns created and it was quite funny.”
'I don't know how I passed the exam'
With Will Chudley and Stu Townsend already on Exeter’s books, Maunder was sent on loan to Plymouth Albion at the beginning of last season.
But within two months he was an integral part of an Exeter side that would finish as champions, with injuries forcing him back into the set up.
He made his debut off the bench in the sobering 35-8 defeat to Clermont Auvergne in the Champions Cup, a game that Chiefs players recall as the tuning point of their campaign. “I don’t know if it has become normal yet..."
“It was a mental year,” he said. “Before my debut against Clermont I was sat in a lecture theatre at university and I was just thinking ‘this can’t be happening’.
“The team had just been announced and a few people at uni began to recognise me.
“I could not believe it, I had never had something like that happen to me and then a few hours later I was playing against Morgan Parra – who is one of my heroes.
“For about four weeks I had a lecture in marketing on a Friday and how I passed that exam is beyond me because I was just reading through set-plays and did not take anything in.
“It was an awesome few months. I don’t know if it has become normal yet, I don’t think anything about the rugby world is normal.”
The Breakfast Club
Maunder’s rise at Exeter was so sharp he was selected by England head coach Eddie Jones to tour Argentina last summer, making his international debut in the latter stages of the first Test.
Exeter director of rugby Rob Baxter broke the news of his selection before the tour – meaning he had not met Jones until the first day of training at Pennyhill Park.
“I was grabbing breakfast and he came over and introduced himself and told me a few things he wanted me to work on,” he said.
“I was very nervous when he came over but he just went straight into rugby chat and spoke about things I was not good enough at. I knew I was in the thick of it then!
“The boys were all class. I was pretty nervous but I was lucky to have five Exeter boys with me which made it a lot easier. They looked after me.
“The senior boys were awesome too. They looked after us but they were not easy on us. You quickly learned what the standard was and nothing less was acceptable.”