Honiton’s Charlie Wright - England Expects
PUBLISHED: 07:00 09 September 2017 | UPDATED: 09:23 12 September 2017
Charlie Wright, from Honiton, plays in the Exeter Chiefs Academy and has represented England at four age levels. He spoke to Steve Jennings.
It is a couple of days after the Exeter Chiefs’ historic victory over Wasps at Twickenham to seal the English Premiership title.
Charlie Wright is looking relaxed in the sunshine despite suffering injury whilst playing for the England U19s. “I was in an international series from December through to April,” he explains. “We were training every other weekend up at Leeds where the coaches are based. Then, at the end of the series there is a ten-day camp where we played Canada, Ireland and Scotland. We put a junior side out against Canada – so I never played - but started against Ireland and was playing well; I scored a try and then 15 minutes into the game went for the ball and put my shoulder out for the second time this year.
“We also played about five games before that, including games against Wales and France, so it has been a busy time,” he adds. “But now I am at the club every day undergoing rehab.”
Inevitably, the love of sport started at school but the young Charlie appeared to be more attracted to another game initially. “I tried to play football but that didn’t go well as I was a bit too physical for that game. So I started playing rugby with some cricket in the summer.”
And such was his promise he was playing against older boys immediately. “The year above weren’t doing so great so I was integrated into their side and I did well enough and stayed there.”
“But my love of rugby really started when I joined Honiton RFC under Jon O’Brien and “Churchy” (Tom Churchward) at the age of six. But unfortunately it all dispersed there a bit so a move to Sidmouth came about and things kicked on from there,” he added. “I was playing in a good team and winning games and we won the Devon Cup a couple of times. I then played in my older brother Harry’s last year of Colts - and that’s when my dad coached us - and that’s when the England interest started.”
Charlie has been involved with England teams since being called up for the U16s in 2015 when he wore the number seven shirt against Wales. He has since played at U17, U18 and U19 levels, starring in many games. So what does he remember about the first time he pulled on an England shirt in Caerphilly? “It was emotional,” he confesses. “It was a dream come true and it’s the national anthem that gets to you and it got to me definitely.
“I recall being so emotional that I made a mistake early and left a gap in the line and knew I had to sort myself out quickly,” he says with honesty. “But it was a learning curve and you soon realise that, when playing for England, everyone can play and I was up against some seriously good players.
“But I have great memories of that game and it is probably my best in an England shirt so far.”
Being involved with England means Charlie spends a fair bit of time away from Devon. The training camps last four days and include journeys to Yorkshire with the focus involving physical, psychological and mental work with individual player development too. And then there are the match day weekends too. “We only have about one-and-a-half days before the game on Sunday,” Charlie explains. ”We train for about an hour then have team meetings, and these are more tactical as we focus on our game more than the opposition. On the Saturday we train again but have more time to chill,” he adds. “Then in the evening we have a shirt presentation and everyone presents back to the group saying what the shirt means to them.”
Charlie gets plenty of support and spends time with his mentor, Richard Hill, the former Bath and England scrum-half, and can see the benefits of tapping into his experience. “Hilly is a gentleman - very polite and in-depth - and he watches my performance and there will be three good things but a lot to work on. And the areas to work on won’t be ‘you didn’t make that tackle’, it will be ‘you made the tackle but your head was in the wrong direction’. It can seem quite picky but at that level that’s where you need to be.”
His association with Hill has prompted Charlie to spend time with one of English rugby’s finest and a household name. “It was in Leeds as part of one of the programmes about positive thinking under pressure. Hilly just told me there was someone waiting in a room for me so I just went in and this guy stood up and said, ‘Hi, I’m Jonny Wilkinson’.
“I had no time to get nervous so just sat down and we talked about all sorts.
“I didn’t know but he had undergone depression and had spoken to a lot of specialists. He speaks so calmly and is also very in-depth.
“I took away from the meeting his professionalism as he is so polite to everyone. I don’t know why but his mannerisms reminded me of my auntie! I didn’t tell him that though.”
As his employers the Chiefs play an active part in guiding Charlie’s lifestyle. “They give me an off-season programme. They advise on cardio sessions, especially at the moment because of my shoulder injury,” he says. “They accept that I am a young lad and you need to let your hair down. But if I was doing something wrong they would definitely tell me.”
Asked to name his favourite game, “Exmouth,” he says emphatically. “Every season the Chiefs Academy put out a side against Exmouth’s first team and I was really nervous about playing against men for the first time. I was 17 playing alongside some of our first team.
“But I scored a try in about the first five minutes and another a few minutes later. And I was playing against Ollie Rice and George Meadows – two Honiton boys – and I played quite well.”
Charlie gets feedback from his family. “Mum is always supportive – she only sees the good things,” he says. “Harry is a mix between my dad and my mum as he does pick up on a few bad things but also the good. My dad used to coach us so he tends to be constructively critical. So if Harry and Dad tell me I have done well then I know I have had a good game.
“But they all tell me they are proud.”
Next season Charlie will join the Senior Academy and this will involve training with the first team, including England international Jack Nowell. He has a clear vision of the way forward. “I try to work harder with extra sessions as I just want to keep progressing. There’s still loads to learn.
“Internationally, I want to play for the U20s next year, and that will mean integrating with players older than me, and in the next two seasons I want my Anglo-Welsh debut and play a lot more men’s rugby. But before all that I need to get back from injury of course.”
So how does Charlie answer the question asked at the shirt presentations on the evening before England games? What does the shirt mean to him? “Everything! I think of all the support I get from everyone here - my family and the people in Honiton - and it really does mean just that, absolutely everything!”n