What a start for Harry Randall, named Man of the Match after a try-scoring England debut at Twickenham. The Bristol scrum-half talks belief, box kicking and mad Bears
Q&A with new England cap Harry Randall
Feelings might still be raw in the Bristol camp after the Bears, following a season of exhilarating rugby, came up short in the Gallagher Premiership play-offs. But there is some consolation at least in the performance of their scrum-half Harry Randall on his England debut against USA at Twickenham on Sunday.
Randall was named Man of the Match after a sparkling contribution that included a dazzling try, complete with a wicked right step. “He’s so dynamic and electric from the base of the scrum,” said Ugo Monye after England’s 43-29 win. “The most impressive thing is that he’s brought the form and style of rugby he shows for Bristol Bears to the international circuit.”
Randall was missing for much of the second half of the campaign but when he returned it was as if he had never been away. His individual try from a tap penalty at Leicester illustrated how alive he is to possibilities. And who can forget the try he scored at Exeter, when he relished thundering forward with the big guys from a driving maul.
At barely 5ft 7in and 73kg, Randall is one of the smaller men you’ll find in professional rugby but Pat Lam, his boss at Bristol, rates him as “pound for pound, one of the best tacklers I have seen”. Called into England’s Six Nations squad at the start of this year, he has been sensational over the last couple of seasons.
Ahead of the play-offs, we caught up with the 23-year-old with a fondness for Bosco pizza for an article that was published in our July issue. Here’s some of what he had to say…
Rugby World You were born in Slough. Are you part of a rugby family?
Harry Randall “My dad (Joby) played for Wasps Colts quite a lot when he was younger, and also for Slough RFC. He was a centre/wing. I’ve got two older brothers, Jake and Charlie, who both played rugby. And my younger sister, Bethany, used to play too. We’ve got a family business doing flat roofing, J Randall Roofing.”
RW What is your first rugby memory?
HR “Every weekend I’d be watching my brothers play, a rugby ball in my hands. When I was four years old we moved to Wales, I played for a club called Tycroes. I played for a few clubs in the area but that’s where it all started. My brothers were at Tycroes and I watched them through their school days and Scarlets academy; both of them played Wales age grades.”
RW Have you always played at scrum-half?
HR “When I was a young age I played a tiny bit on the wing. But once I got in at scrum-half I never changed.”
RW Did you have any rugby heroes?
HR “Coming through my teen years, I loved watching Will Genia and Aaron Smith play. They were an inspiration through my teen years. And I really enjoyed watching Ben Youngs and Danny Care as well on an England basis.”
RW At what point did you think you could play rugby for a living?
HR “It was always a dream. From five years old, I’d have a ball in my hands, just throwing it around, kicking it about. As I came through my teens, going into school, I loved playing, and then through Scarlets academy it felt like I was improving. When I went to Hartpury College, it kept kicking on. I’m very fortunate to be in the position I am now.”
RW So you played for Scarlets as well?
HR “Yeah, when I was about 15, 16, I did a bit of Scarlets age groups. And I was at Llandovery College, I loved my time there as well, it was a really enjoyable time in my life. Then I decided to go to Hartpury, to change things up a bit. Fortunately it worked out for the best.”
RW Is the rugby you’re been playing at Bristol Bears reminiscent of how Hartpury played during your time there?
HR “Yeah, I’d say so. Obviously Bristol are in the Premiership and you come up against much more difficult defences. I loved my time at Hartpury, you’ve got that freedom to play what’s on and when I came here it’s similar. We’ve got our systems in place at Bristol to play what’s on and it gives us that freedom to go and attack teams and stress teams in that way.”
RW Do you have to be mindful of slowing the game down at Bristol sometimes? Being a steadying hand on the tiller?
HR “I see what you’re saying. Teams look at us sometimes and think what on earth are we doing? To them it’s madness but we think there is a method to the madness. We know what we’re trying to do out there and yes, in some circumstances, you have to adapt out on the pitch and might have to change a game plan out there. You might have to slow it down.
“It’s about the leaders out on the pitch being able to control the game to our advantage. We want to play at our tempo and not allow the opposition to dictate. We try to do that through our running game, kicking game, passing game – we can attack in all those areas.”
RW We read that you did a lot of box kicking during lockdown…
HR “Yeah, lockdown I did a lot of kicking. A big work-on for me is the consistency and accuracy of my kicking, I’m constantly working on my technique and putting myself under pressure to get the best outcome I can.
“Playing Premiership rugby shows the accuracy of your kicking and how much you have to work on, not just kicking but your passing, your reading of the game, your whole game. It’s been a massive work-on for me in the last couple of years. It makes you think about what areas you need to keep on improving and take to that next level to become a better player.”
RW In Premiership terms, do you feel no one can match Bristol when you hit your straps?
HR “As a club we believe we have the ability and the game plan to beat any team in the world, let alone just in the Premiership. That’s the belief we have within ourselves. It’s just about being able to go out and execute that on the day.
“We’ve lost games where we didn’t execute the game plan to the best of our ability, for example in the Champions Cup game against Bordeaux. We made some mistakes and came out on the wrong side. But the belief is definitely there within the team, it’s just about controlling what we can control.”
RW Who would be your Bristol Player of the Season?
HR “That’s a difficult question… I love playing with Stevie Luatua. Every time he rocks up he’s a great captain, brilliant leader, so I could say Stevie is the Player of the Year every single year because even though he’s been injured every now and again, what he brings to the team is unbelievable. He gives the boys around him such a big lift.
“You’ve got boys who stepped up in place of injured guys and put in massive shifts. Dave Attwood has been excellent for us this year as well, he’s come on massively. It’s not necessarily the players who score the fancy tries, it’s the hard work that goes into it up front first and foremost that gives the backs the ability to do that.”
RW You suffered an ankle injury (syndesmosis) whilst training with England this year…
HR “Yeah, I was out for six weeks. Fortunately I didn’t need an operation, it was just a torn ligament. I recovered from that really well and played about ten minutes against Bordeaux in that last-16 game of the Champions Cup. Unfortunately I fell awkwardly on my shoulder, tearing two ligaments, which put me out for another spell.”
RW How long did you stay in England camp during the Six Nations?
HR “About two-and-a-half weeks. I was there for the first two games. And then I picked up the ankle injury in training. I was gutted to be leaving. It was massively beneficial to be around the best players in England. The likes of Ben Youngs, have some good conversations with him, learn some skills from him, learn from someone who’s been there and done it all.
“And just to be in a different environment from Bristol, a different team, a different style of playing, was a good experience and helped me improve as a player.”
RW You’re a ChallengeAid ambassador. How did that come about?
HR “A good friend of mine, my old rugby coach Iestyn Thomas, heads that up, we’re in contact quite a lot. He asked me if I’d like to be a part of it. It’s a good charity (that encourages schools to fundraise through sport to provide Schools of Hope in East Africa) and something I’m ambitious about. I’m delighted to be on board with it.”
RW Do you do any coaching yourself?
HR “Yes, for the past few seasons I’ve been coaching a local side in Bristol, St Brendan’s. I’m really enjoying that, they’re a great bunch of lads down there. They’re keen to train and to get better. Obviously it’s been a frustrating year with Covid in terms of that. You can never predict your future, so it’s good to have that experience in coaching for life after rugby.”
RW Who’s the benchmark in the game right now for scrum-halves?
HR “Antoine Dupont in the last couple of years has raised the benchmark a bit – everyone can see what a good player he is. And then you’ve got Faf de Klerk, who’s an unbelievable player, a ferocious little nine, especially in defence. He plays the game a different way to Dupont. They’re definitely players I’d love to challenge myself against and hopefully I’ll come up against them one day (internationally). They’re players who I watch and learn off.
“Aaron Smith is quite vocal on social media, he’s always putting videos up on how he’s training, so I can steal some ideas from him. They’re three of the best nines in the world and they’re raising the bar. It’s very good for a lot of the young nines out there who want to push themselves to get better. It gives us something to work towards.”
RW Do you feel a closer affinity to a smaller player like Faf de Klerk?
HR “The way I play naturally leans towards some of the smaller players but there’s definitely ways I learn off other nines as well. The likes of Conor Murray. When I was working on my kicking during lockdown, I looked at the way he kicks because he very rarely gets charged down due to the way he kicks, he gets back quite far. That’s something I was working on.
“Defence is a big work-on for me as well. It’s nice to watch Faf de Klerk and get some ideas, see how he reads the game and the decisions he makes in defence. He’s a ball of energy and that’s what all good nines bring to the team, that energy and that buzz around the team that hopefully lifts the boys around them. Rally the troops and get them going.”
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