Earle full of fight as he pushes for happy end­ing to his Can­ter­bury tale

Winger wants to make it at Sara­cens af­ter in­jury agony and spell in New Zealand, writes Char­lie Mor­gan

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Aviva Premiership -

By his own reck­on­ing, it has taken Nathan Earle un­til the start of this sea­son to get back to where he feels he should be af­ter rup­tur­ing an Achilles ten­don in Septem­ber 2014. The 23-year-old has needed pa­tience – more even than the reg­u­lar acad­emy grad­u­ate at­tempt­ing to push into Sara­cens’ for­mi­da­ble first team. For­tu­nately, he pos­sesses both that virtue and the light­ning pace to make up for lost time.

Earle’s in­jury oc­curred while on loan at Bed­ford Blues. Months pre­vi­ously, he had helped an Eng­land Un­der-20 team – cap­tained by club-mate Maro Itoje – to the Ju­nior World Cham­pi­onship tro­phy in New Zealand.

He ad­mits the tim­ing was “ter­ri­ble” and that he feared for his ca­reer, but a dili­gent pe­riod of re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion and an­other loan spell with Lon­don Scot­tish then gave way last sum­mer to an in­trigu­ing op­por­tu­nity on the other side of the world.

For­mer Sara­cen Joe Mad­dock, coach­ing in New Zealand with Can­ter­bury un­der the inim­itable Scott “Ra­zor” Robert­son, wanted a winger. Mark McCall put the propo­si­tion to Earle, who needed lit­tle per­sua­sion – and learned a great deal.

“Play­ing here, and in Eng­land in gen­eral, it’s a far more struc­tured game plan,” he ex­plains. “Over there, it was far more fluid and there was far more room for… I wouldn’t say cre­ativ­ity, but it al­lowed peo­ple to go off-script more be­cause, if you lost num­bers some­where, you would pick them up some­where else on the pitch.

“There is also a will­ing­ness to hold on to the ball. There is a be­lief that you are go­ing to break down a de­fence even af­ter 10 or 15 phases be­cause some­one is go­ing to make a mis­take de­fen­sively and there will be a gap some­where.

“The strike men­tal­ity is dif­fer­ent, as well. As soon as there is a break, ev­ery­one is flood­ing on to the ball. Gen­er­ally, op­por­tu­ni­ties are fin­ished.

“That is start­ing to creep into English rugby and we are putting a mas­sive em­pha­sis on that here at Sara­cens – con­vert­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties into scores.”

As Can­ter­bury romped to the Mitre 10 Cup ti­tle, Earle shared a back­line with teenage All Black-in­wait­ing Jordie Bar­rett – “a uni stu­dent hang­ing out with his uni mates play­ing phe­nom­e­nally well” – and was ex­posed to other in­ter­est­ing nu­ances. Gym work took place af­ter rugby, for in­stance. It is the other way round in Eng­land. “I re­mem­ber the fa­cil­ity was re­ally good and al­lowed for a lot of mi­cro-skills stuff to be done in your rest pe­ri­ods.

“Coaches would be in the gym, tak­ing play­ers to do ex­tra off­load prac­tice or tackle tech­nique, high balls or line-outs.

“There was al­ways some­thing ‘rugby’ go­ing on in the gym ses­sion while lads were lift­ing.” Robert­son’s sub­se­quent Su­per Rugby suc­cess with the Crusaders has not sur­prised Earle, who has also pro­gressed. His pro­lific fin­ish­ing abil­ity shone through last sea­son with Pre­mier­ship and Cham­pi­ons Cup tries when he re­turned to Sara­cens.

Taken by Earle’s speed and height, Ed­die Jones called him into a se­nior Eng­land squad for May’s non-capped game against the Bar­bar­ians at Twick­en­ham.

Earle’s age-grade habit of scor­ing long-range, YouTube friendly tries con­tin­ued and he was taken to Ar­gentina. De­spite not be­ing used over the two-Test se­ries, he “loved” ex­pe­ri­enc­ing in­ter­na­tional stan­dards in train­ing and was made aware of spe­cific ar­eas in which to im­prove. What he would do well to re­tain is his ap­petite for tries.

“I guess I’ve al­ways been one of the faster play­ers on the pitch,” Earle grins. “So, in a self­ish way, I’ve al­ways been hun­gry to score.

“Ob­vi­ously if some­one is in a bet­ter po­si­tion I will try to put them through, but nine times out of 10 I will try to go for it my­self.”

As much as Earle de­vel­oped dis­tri­bu­tion and link play with free-flow­ing Can­ter­bury, ex-Sara­cens col­league Chris Ash­ton pro­vided an ed­u­ca­tion in in­tu­itive run­ning lines.

“It wasn’t so much be­ing taught as watch­ing him,” Earle says. “You’d see him pop­ping up and scor­ing tries from po­si­tions he prob­a­bly shouldn’t be in. The coaches are try­ing to help me with spot­ting those op­por­tu­ni­ties. It’s about be­ing hun­gry.”

Wales main­stay Liam Wil­liams has re­placed Ash­ton, mean­ing there will be scope to push for ap­pear­ances dur­ing in­ter­na­tional win­dows and as part of Mark McCall’s ro­ta­tion pol­icy. Earle started the first two Pre­mier­ship matches of the sea­son be­fore com­ing off the bench to score a try in the win over Sale.

He is out­side the match-day 23 for the meet­ing with patched-up Wasps to­day and may at some point find him­self at a stick-or-twist cross­roads. Earle would be a more vis­i­ble fig­ure at an­other club and would have no short­age of suit­ors. How­ever, Sara­cens have stuck by him. You sense he is game for the fight.

‘I guess I’ve al­ways been one of the faster play­ers so, in a self­ish way, I have al­ways been hun­gry to score’

Look and learn: Nathan Earle had valu­able les­sons with Can­ter­bury and Eng­land

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