Playing in his first Six Nations tournament has brought back fond memories of boyhood rugby days for Jack van Poortvliet.
The 21-year-old scrum half who made his Six Nations debut last weekend against Scotland recalls his time watching international games on television in the clubhouse of North Walsham RFC in Norfolk.
“It’s still a bit strange. The Six Nations is something I would religiously watch growing up. When I spoke to my parents last week when I was starting I was on FaceTime and mum started balling her eyes out. It was one of those where you sit back and think, the Six Nations is so big,” he said.
“I’d watch autumn internationals and summer tours but during the Six Nations you’d play at your local rugby club, minis or whatever and you’d sit around watching it. The rivalries between the home nations and the intensity of all games are unbelievable. To be a part of it is incredibly special. I’m trying to take it week by week and not think too big and focus on what I’ve got to do to help the team. There have been a few pinch-me moments,” he said while reflecting with pride on the past few weeks.
The van Poortvliet family still have strong ties with the local club and remain familiar faces in the clubhouse.
“Sunday games we’d try and play minis in the mornings and whoever was around we would watch the game. I’d watch Walsham on a Saturday and if there was an afternoon or an evening kick-off we’d watch it there. Even last year I watched Walsham play at two o’clock and then watched Italy against Wales afterwards,” he mentioned.
“The Six Nations is brilliant at bringing people and clubs together. I watched games at home with my family and at the rugby club. My family absolutely love rugby. Me and my dad and mum in particular, my sister likes it now but it took her a while. It’s a brilliant spectacle to be a part of and an unbelievable tournament. To be a part of it is really special,” he added with a beaming smile.
The England prodigy has not been short of rugby inspiration growing up, with dad Jeff having played flanker for both Saracens and North Walsham.
Alumni from Oakham School in Rutland where he was educated include other internationally capped rugby players such as Hamish Watson, Tom Croft, Lewis Moody, Alex Goode, and most recently, classmate Sam Costelow who made his debut for Wales in the autumn. All have been coached by Leicester Tigers legend, Ian “Dosser” Smith.
Alongside making a Twickenham appearance in his early teens in the NatWest Schools Vase Final in 2015, van Poortvliet holds dear to him memories of the iconic stadium itself and the historic tournament he saw as a young fan.
“The first one I can remember and what really started it for me was when I came to my only game as a kid that I watched at Twickenham, which was England against France. I can’t remember what year exactly [it was 2011] but I remember Jonny [Wilkinson] slotting a massive kick from 50 metres and Ben Foden was a try scorer,” he said.
“That was my only game I ever got to watch at Twickenham as a kid. I remember that extremely clearly. That is probably my earliest memory of the Six Nations but I would have watched it growing up,” he added.
Since the age of 18 as part of the Leicester Tigers Academy, van Poortvliet has been mentored by none other than Ben Youngs.
With Youngs not included in the squad this week, Northampton Saints’ Alex Mitchell will be the one to replace van Poortvliet from the bench.
Despite Mitchell being from the East Midlands rival club to van Poortvliet’s Tigers, the pair work well together.
“Ben’s been brilliant with me all the way through from 18 to now. They’ve got a lot of similarities. Everyone has seen the quality of Mitch’s attacking game in the Premiership so that should be really exciting to see. We’ve all got slight differences and similarities but the biggest thing is how we can work together, Mitch and I tomorrow, and putting the best foot forward for 80 minutes together and how we perform the best for 80 minutes to help the team,” he said.
Written by Imogen Ainsworth
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