As a four-year-old peering over the fence at the Blackthorn End of the Memorial Stadium, Jack Bates dreamed of representing Bristol on the Premiership stage.
Last month, at Sale, he got his chance and despite a young side suffering a heavy defeat, the experience has only fired the ambition of the Bristol-born, former St Brendan’s and Cleve RFC junior, who found his way to the Bears via Colston’s School and Filton College.
Bates, who represented England U18s last year, said: “It was unreal. It’s been a childhood dream and while you train a lot with the first team, it was nice to get the opportunity to put that into play and feel like you’re fully involved in the whole week.
“It was just about giving it my all and trying to get stuck in. It was obviously a very physical game against Sale and with tackles you can’t hold back. You’ve just got to fly in and sometimes you end up as a speedbump, but I really enjoyed the experience.
“I played opposite Denny Solomona and Marland Yarde was on their other wing, but I didn’t think about that too much. It was more about focussing on our game and if you think about all the opposition’s international players, you just get nervous.
“There’s no reason to stress about things like that and although the result didn’t go our way, I took a lot from the experience and will be much better for it.”
A no-holds- barred winger, Bates is in the fortunate position of having an exceptional mentor.
He explained: “I’ve been working very closely with Charles Piutau over this last year. He’s been my mentor and we sit down a lot and go over our games, then after training sessions we’ll often work on skills together. He makes the point that you shouldn’t just work on your work-ons, but also on your super strengths – be even better at what you’re good at.
“Charles is a class player, a fantastically well-rounded guy who understands the game very well and is very vocal in meetings. He leads things and is just a good man to have around so I’m trying to get a lot of feedback from him because he sees the bigger picture.”
Also a fan of New Zealand’s Rieko Ioane, Bates was on loan at Dings Crusaders last season but now aims for more games with Bristol and a call-up by England U20s.
Bates, 19, added: “Being involved with the 18s in South Africa last year was a brilliant experience and I’d love to get into the 20s now. With these short turnarounds, hopefully I’ll get some more game time with Bristol now and can take as much as I can from this.
“It’s a good opportunity for our young boys to step up and, as a proud Bristolian, there’s no better feeling than representing your home city club. You’ve got to be up to scratch, but if I can have a few good months now, hopefully I can progress from there.”