Some players go their whole careers waiting place at Europe’s top table but the Heineken Cup has been a case of early learning for Sale Sharks and England U20 scrum-half Nathan Fowles.
Fowles, 19, was thrust into the Sharks’ starting XV for their Heineken Cup opener against Cardiff Blues in October and he did not disappoint, playing his part in a dramatic 34-33 victory.
Three more appearances in Europe’s elite competition plus two Premiership cameos followed.
And with former Scotland international Bryan Redpath and ex-Lion Dwayne Peel on hand to call on for advice, Fowles is relishing the education he is getting.
“The club is very good for scrum halves,” said Fowles, who juggled his Sale apprenticeship with study at Myerscough College.
Fowles said: “Obviously Dwayne’s coming towards the end of his career so he’s passing on massive amounts of advice to me every day that I can put into my own game.
“Also I’ve got Bryan Redpath – ex-scrum-half at Sale, ex-Scotland and we work quite closely in one-to-one sessions before and after training.”
Fowles has not been involved with Sale’s recent mini-revival, instead concentrating on international duty with England U20s, who are defending their Six Nations crown.
It has been a fiery baptism for Fowles. He came on in the narrow win over Scotland in treacherous conditions, and then in the loss to Ireland after England played with 14 men for almost an hour.
England remain in the hunt to top the table, however, something Fowles is determined to do in his first international season.
“It’s my first involvement in an England set-up but an exciting one,” he added. “Playing against the other lads – the elite players in their respective countries – is highly competitive. That goes for any team you come up against. They’re all going to want to win just as much as everyone else.
“It’s about things we can take from each game and improve. But you can’t write off anyone in this competition.”
While Redpath and Peel have helped Fowles’ development on the training pitch, he admits there is no substitute for match action. And he is convinced he has already shown his adaptability, having bounced back from a rather average Premiership debut against Bath in September.
“This season has been good because I’ve made both my Heineken Cup and Premiership debut. It’s been a massively steep learning curve but awesome,” said Fowles.
“At my age it’s all about getting game time and developing. From my first game in the Premiership down at Bath I made a couple of mistakes but from there the next game was Leicester.
“I took what I learned from the Bath game into the Leicester match and played quite well. It’s a matter of developing my knowledge and my experiences and being in situations I’ve got to learn from. As long as I’m learning each game I play, then I’m only going to go up.
“I was thinking about making rugby my career long before Sale offered me a scholarship.
“I was involved with England Counties since U15s level and then the EPDG (Elite Player Development Group). So it’s always been first choice for what I want to do.”