What are your memories of school life at St John’s, Leatherhead?
I really enjoyed my time at St John’s. It is a good all-round school and particularly strong at sports. I remember that the teachers were always very helpful and that I had a really good bunch of mates there.
At school, what sports did you enjoy and what first attracted you to rugby?
St John’s has an excellent reputation for sport, not only in terms of the success of its sports teams, but also the breadth of opportunity available. The boys’ sport has traditionally been strong with teams playing on a high-calibre circuit. So I got to try lots of different sports including cricket, hockey, athletics and football as well as rugby, which wasn’t actually my first love. I was a relatively late developer in both physique and rugby terms, not really coming into my own until I was in the sixth form. Then I really began to love the teamsmanship of rugby – the way everyone pulls together. It’s a very enjoyable game with a great social side.
At the school everyone is encouraged in sport, whatever their level and ability
What role did St John’s play in your rugby career?
St John’s School was very influential and played a big part in developing my game, alongside Dorking Rugby Club where I was a keen member. At the school everyone is encouraged in sport, whatever their level and ability, and there are at least three sessions a week. It also has first-rate facilities, including nine rugby pitches.
Rugby is the main game for the boys in the Autumn Term, with the school running 16 teams who play fixtures against the likes of Epsom College, Cranleigh, Brighton College, RGS Guildford, KCS Wimbledon and Eastbourne College for example – with a high success rate!
Craig Newby former Leicester and All Blacks flanker, will also be joining St John’s as its new Director of Rugby this summer. On retiring from playing professional rugby in 2012, Craig was appointed 1st XV coach at National League Division One team Cambridge and has also been forwards coach at Top Japanese League team NEC Green Rockets.
How did you find the transition of playing rugby at school to playing professionally?
The transition to professional rugby was tough, as you might imagine. Although I had a good base level, it was still a massive step up. My primary position was as wing up to 13 years. I then switched to second row because I wasn’t quick.
What challenges have you had to overcome during your rugby career?
I’ve certainly got the build for rugby – I’m 6ft 6ins and 181/2 stone – but injuries are hard to overcome. It’s always challenging and frustrating to be unable to play.
What has been your sporting highlight so far?
I have two highlights. The first was last year when Saracens won the European Rugby Champions Cup Final – the old Heineken Cup. That took a lot of perseverance as we had come very close the previous few years, but never quite done it. It was great to actually win in 2016. I will also never forget my first international game at Twickenham in November 2014, when I was brought on as a replacement against New Zealand – that was a great moment too!
What advice would you give to pupils at St John’s who are interested in becoming a professional rugby player?
Try your best and make the most of all the opportunities on offer at school – but always have a back-up plan. Mine was a place at Loughborough University.
Where do you see yourself in the next five years?
Hopefully still playing rugby for my club and internationally!