England prop Will Stuart is steadily establishing himself, as Steve Borthwick’s leading option to pack down the tight-head of the scrum. The Bath man has been in fine form in blue, black and white, and has rolled this momentum into international appearances and an extended run with the England team.
Stuart is set to start at tight-head tomorrow afternoon, as England take on Wales in the second round of the 2024 Six Nations. After an impressive performance in the opening win against Italy, Stuart remains in the number three jersey to take on Warren Gatlands side.
Stuart looks to have shunted Kyle Sinckler out of the England picture for the time being, and with transfer speculation rife around Sinckler’s future at Toulon, Stuart could well be the man for the job in Borthwick’s long term. Couple this with Dan Cole’s veteran years, and Stuart could well oversee the likes of Asher Opoku-Fordjour and Bath colleagues Billy Sela and Scott Kirk’s progress into the future England front row.
Sela and Kirk are currently impressing in the England U20s set-up, under the guidance of Bath legend turned England Age Group Scrum Coach Nathan Catt. Speaking on the impressive options at Bath and across the emerging England talents, Stuart said;
Billy and Scott and have been with the uni (University of Bath) so they’ve been back and forth. At Bath we’ve got a really good line all the way through of props, especially tight-heads. If it’s Thomas [du Toit], me, Archie [Griffin] who’s going to be an international tight-head on the weekend (for Wales against England). Billy is tearing up trees in age-group rugby, Johannes [Jonker], and Nathan Catt has been at Bath before, and is working with those lads, so there’s a great pathway through.
“I haven’t had that conversation yet (Feedback on young props to Catt) but I’m sure I will going back into Premiership games. There’s a great pathway, with Bath, the age-groups and England.”
Despite the impressive cohort of props eligible for England and battling at Bath, Stuart remains confident and trusts in his ability to secure the starting jersey. Despite the competition, Stuart admits that he finds time to have a laugh in the England camp, often thanks to Dan Cole and Joe Marler’s witty comments.
“Everyone backs themselves individually. For me, personally, if I push on where I need to push on and focus on those areas, I back myself over any prop. It’s a self-belief thing. You don’t want to be dragged into thinking that you’re not up to task, you shouldn’t really be in this environment.”
“Dan (Cole) has got a very dry sense of humour, he is a funny guy. I prefer to be a fly on the wall and listen to him and Joe go at it.
Going into the technicals of the scrum, Stuart responded to how England are planning to gear up their pack after the Rugby World Cup. With Tom Harrison co-ordinating the pack as scrum coach Stuart expressed how he has been working to improve his game, and how he has learned to alter his approach for when the referee calls out ‘crouch, bind, set”.
“I think I have just had a rewiring of when it is important to go, when it is important to make them (opponents) play away. If they have a scrum on their 5m line it is not a bad outcome for them to have to play away, exit and we get the ball on the 22m.
“I was always, ‘I want to try and get a penalty here’ and that creates a bit of a messy environment of every scrum. It is more knowing when is the best time to go, the thing that I have been pushing on the last two years. That transpires further down the line on trying to be dominant on opposition ball but it is a process thing. So much of scrummaging is perception based, if you are clean, give good pictures and you are dominant on your ball, when you go it is a good thing.”
“Most people, most props from the first scrum will know, even if it is a static scrum you will know if you can apply some pressure or if I am going to be knocking it down for 80 minutes, 55 minutes. You know from the first couple of scrums, but perception wise for the ref, it is so intricate, there are a lot of 50/50s, it is a hard thing to referee so pictures wise, if you clean, if you are positive on your first couple you can take a few more risks.”
Stuart then pulled back the curtain to his life beyond the pitch, and what an average day looks like for a tight-head prop after a gruelling match. The 27-year-old explained how he would previously spend the day horizontally, he is now getting extra motivation to shift the sore muscles in his days off.
“To be honest I don’t really sleep after the game. I’m usually knackered anyway. Evening games are the worst, as I’ll be awake until four, five (am) and that inevitably means rolling around in bed until 1pm trying to get some sleep. It’s not great.
“I used to think it’s because I’d had too much caffeine, so I stopped having it before games and it did nothing, so if anything I was more tired before the start of the game. It’s just adrenaline; your body is in pain so it’s a strange mix of being exhausted but not able to sleep.”
“My missus has moved in with me now, so she gets me up and moving a bit more. Before, I’d probably lie on the sofa, feel sorry for myself for a few hours and then get some food. She’s mad on interior design at the moment, so I’m painting walls and panelling… I don’t really know what’s going on, a lot of YouTube tutorials on DIY.”
This entertaining insight was rounded off, with Stuart discussion his lack of social media engagement. Promoting a positive mindset to avoid the backlash following an England defeat, Stuart expressed his minimal online presence, but how his mother is sure to let him know when the reports haven’t brought in a high score.
“To be honest, I’m fairly removed from social media other than posting memes. I’m not that active on it… it’s more my mum. She’ll read through everything. She flies into match ratings: ‘Will, you only got five this week!’ Sorry, Mum.”