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
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