Inspired by the dazzling deeds of England’s Jonny May, hot-stepping London Irish winger Ben Loader hopes defensive improvements will thrust him into the Test arena.
While May’s sensational long-range try against Ireland last week had Red Rose fans cheering, Exiles protégé Loader, 22, is among a squadron of back three youngsters eyeing a chance of breaking into the England set-up and making an impact at the 2023 World Cup.
Having already featured for his country in a non-capped game against the Barbarians last year, Loader enjoyed a promising first full season in the Premiership – a platform the former England U20s man believes armed him with the knowledge to deliver what is needed.
Loader told The Rugby Paper: “Jonny May’s unbelievable and he’s become a more and more complete winger over the years. He’s someone I watch and try to take parts of his game from, but we’re quite different players and it’s easy to get caught comparing yourself because I know I’ve got a way to go yet to get there.
“Last season was a very good one for me. My focus going into it – and it’s the same now – was about staying on the field because, as a younger player, I know that the more I play the better I get and the more you get a feel for the game. That exposure has been great and I’m learning from my mistakes.
“In my review at the end of last season, the coaches and I went through all sorts of stuff we saw eye to eye on – making my strengths super strengths and working hard on other things.
“I love scoring tries and beating defenders so practice on that never goes amiss, but I’m also working very hard on my defence, high ball and when to get involved off my wing.
“It can be lonely on the wing sometimes so coming inside more and searching for opportunities is something you’ll see more from me and I’m working on making my defence rock solid. I know that’s something wingers at international level need to have nailed down so there’s a lot of stuff I’ll keep working on while improving the very good things as well.”
May is not the only England star Loader draws inspiration from. Having come through the junior ranks at Reading Abbey RFC, he is part of a remarkable production line that has spawned the Willis brothers at Wasps, Jack and Tom, and London Irish colleague Chunya Munga.
“It’s unbelievable and it’s so inspirational to see Chunya and Tom playing in the Premiership and Jack now exploding on to the international scene with England,” Loader said.
“It makes me so proud about where we’ve all come from and the platform that a grassroots club like Abbey has given us. It’s credit to the set-up there that they’ve got so many boys in the Premiership and I don’t know what’s in the water but it must be amazing.”
Irish have the opportunity to kick-start their campaign at their new home ground in Brentford and Loader aims to be in the vanguard of a London Irish revolution that will see them once more competing for trophies.
He added: “The last couple of months of last season was a challenge for us but we see this as a chance to have a clean slate now – new stadium, new team – and really push forward and show what we can do. Personally, I’m very excited to get back into it again and, along with all the other young guys, we want to start building some good momentum now.
“I’ve loved being at Irish and while we’ve had our ups and downs, there’s real strong foundations that we want to build on.
“It’s a good opportunity going into the new stadium for this group of players to create a legacy that stands up to the history of the club. There’s a buzz around where we can take this team and it feels like this is our time to step up.”