(Photo: Getty Images)
By Neale Harvey
Three years after fearing his career might be over, burgeoning Exeter lock Jonny Hill is ready to stamp his mark on England’s tour of South Africa following a stellar campaign filling Geoff Parling’s boots.
Lineout specialist Hill fully merits the chance to challenge Joe Launchbury, Maro Itoje and Nick Isiekwe for starting places against the Springboks next month after battling through the “dark times” to become one of the Premiership’s most consistent performers.
A talar dome ankle fracture had threatened Hill’s formative career at Gloucester before Exeter boss Rob Baxter took a punt on his potential in 2015.
After two years of nurturing at Sandy Park that faith is being repaid in full, with England now set to benefit as well.
Hill, 23, told The Rugby Paper: “I found out about my England call-up from Rob and it’s great to get that recognition after a successful season personally.
“Our forwards coach Rob Hunter has been phenomenal throughout my three years at Exeter as well. He helped me through the dark times, keeping me focussed when I was overcoming injuries during my first two years and I’ve picked up so much from him.
“It can be a lonely place when you’re injured and it’s hard to progress, but this season I’ve been playing week-in, week-out and being able to put my stamp on things.”
With Exeter making it through to next week’s Premiership final Hill has remained focused on club duties but is relishing the chance to impress on tour alongside the England regulars.
The 6ft 7in, 17st 7lb lock added: “I haven’t thought too much about England yet but we’ll have three other locks in Joe, Maro and Nick who are very consistent in the Premiership, so I’ll be going there learning some bits from these guys and I’m looking forward to testing myself against them.”
Despite replacing Parling, Hill insists he is no clone of the former England and Lions lock.
He added: “Rob Baxter didn’t tell me to be like Geoff Parling, he told me to just be Jonny Hill and put my own mark on the position. I’ve tried to take that opportunity with both hands, express myself around the field and it’s good to be playing well consistently.”
Having passed the test against the Premiership’s big dogs this season and learned harsh lessons against European champions Leinster, Hill is now ready for the challenge of Test rugby.
He said: “Leinster showed us earlier in the season that they were up for a fight and their breakdown work was something we’ve tried to learn from at Exeter.
“Testing yourself against a top European side like that was a great experience and although we came up short over the two matches, we actually came pretty close to beating them in Dublin and as a player you have to take a lot of confidence from that.
“Personally, that experience has stood me in good stead and if I do get a chance with England next month, I’ll be ready to grab that opportunity as well.”
(Photo: Getty Images)