Will Stuart has become a fixture in Eddie Jones's match-day squads. Here the Bath and England tighthead talks rowing, flute playing and Idi Amin as we delve into his career
The making of England prop Will Stuart
WILL STUART first played rugby aged five at Andover RFC. Now 24, he has become an England regular over the past 12 months, starts against Georgia and Scotland supplementing his usual back-up role to Kyle Sinckler. He’ll win his 11th cap if coming on this weekend against Wales.
Having helped England to win the Six Nations and Autumn Nations Cup in 2020, the Bath tighthead looks here for the long haul. He tells us more about his life and career in an article that first appeared in the January 2021 issue of Rugby World…
I was born in London. Then my mum (Annabelle) moved out Hampshire way. She works for a racehorse syndicate. My dad (Charles) works as a diplomat for the EU. He’s always been abroad really, Belgium, Iraq, Baghdad, Tanzania. He’s just moved back to Belgium. I’ve got a half-brother and a half-sister.
The story is that my grandad played for Uganda. That was put out on family WhatsApp groups. I was taking the piss out of Dad saying that he doesn’t let the truth get in the way of a good story! But he was quick to clarify the story. It wasn’t the international side but my grandad played with Idi Amin. Amin was a second-row and my grandad was the No 8. My great-grandfather was Bishop of Uganda.
I played at fly-half and centre when I was young. In my early teens I moved to No 8 and then to tighthead. It was quite a quick transition. Growing up, like everyone at that age, I was a massive Jonny Wilkinson fan. I’ve got distinct memories of watching the 2003 World Cup final at a friend’s house while eating a jam sandwich.
I still have PTSD from early-morning rowing sessions! I used to row at my school, Radley College (Oxfordshire). The rowing programme there has been very successful. Two guys I was there with, Tom George and Ollie Wynne-Griffith, are in the GB team and on the road to Tokyo.
I got to aged 15, 16, when I was in the Wasps Academy, and there was a bit of a crossroads. Rowing wanted me to lose weight and Wasps wanted me to put a bit on. I was using rowing for fitness so it was an easy choice really. It’s a tough and unrelenting sport. Anyone who gets to a high level in rowing gets major props from me.
Playing in the Championship was invaluable for me. I loved my time at Nottingham. I also played in National League One for Moseley and Blackheath – I loved my time at all of the loan clubs. As a front-rower, it was very important for me. I needed those years because I wasn’t physically ready for men’s rugby or the Premiership.
Life at Bath is going well. One reason I signed for Bath was because I knew that Hats (Neal Hatley, ex-England scrum coach) was coming back to the club. We have a young pack with a lot of English-qualified players and a few of us, Tom Dunn, Beno, Ewelsy, Sam (Underhill), are in or around the England squad now.
I know what it meant to Dunny to get on against Italy (for his debut last autumn), he’s worked his socks off to get involved. He was on the bench at the beginning of the 2020 Six Nations and didn’t get on, so it was an emotional day for him in Rome.
Exeter are so well drilled. They’ve got such a great squad and all know what they’re doing. They have a common goal and that’s something that at Bath we’re trying to emulate. It was disappointing to lose that (Premiership) semi-final to Exeter in the manner we did but we’re happy with the progress we’ve made.
You have to get up to speed quickly with England. All the coaches have a big input, especially if you are new to the environment.
After we beat Italy (in October), we watched the France-Ireland game in our hotel, had some food and a couple of beers. It was a good feeling (to win the 2020 Six Nations) but fairly subdued. Then with family I got the chance to think about it more. Seeing what it meant to them made me reflect on it more as an achievement.
I want to get my hands on the ball as much as possible. That’s a work-on for me, making as much as an impact in attack as I can. And obviously as a tighthead, scrummaging is my bread and butter. So being as dominant as possible at that.
I turned down an offer from Durham University. I did an A Level on the Arab-Israeli conflict, and I’d have tried to study modern history if I’d gone to university. A lot of unbelievable players have come through the BUCS (British Universities & Colleges Sport) leagues to play in the Premiership or in international rugby.
But I couldn’t turn down the opportunity at Wasps. I’d have been upset with myself if I hadn’t given full-time rugby a whack as quickly as possible.
There’s a big welfare issue involved in the scrum debate. I know some people want scrums to be hurried up, it’s wasting time and it’s not marketable for the game. But from a front-rower’s perspective, the set-up is so important. It’s a collision-heavy, violent engage and if things aren’t fully set up it puts more stuff into question.
I need adequate time to get set up, get in the perfect crouch position, to get the whole pack ready for the scrum head. It’s the nature of what we do.
Tony Jackson at Radley was my biggest mentor growing up. I don’t think I’d have come as far as I have without his influence. After Andover, I joined the Salisbury club and through my minis rugby there were two coaches, Russell Henley and St.John Coley, who had a massive influence on my love for the game and spurred me on.
We’ve had to adapt to having no crowds. For the first few games with no fans, I didn’t notice it much. Then we played at Quins in front of two thousand fans and it felt like the best atmosphere I’ve ever been in! Then we played without fans again and the effect dawned on me.
Everyone here has played in 10,000- or 15,000-seat stadiums but when you play with no fans at a 70,000-seater, it’s a different atmosphere.
And singing the anthem is strange. Finding the right intensity is tough because fans add that subconscious momentum. The players can’t wait for fans to be back.
I used to play the flute. I got to grade four or five. It was bullied out of me by the age of 13! It’s a great shame, I did enjoy it. During lockdown I thought I might pick it up again but I didn’t realise my mum had sold my flute a few years ago, which was completely scandalous!
Can’t get to the shops? You can download the digital edition of Rugby World straight to your tablet or subscribe to the print edition to get the magazine delivered to your door.
Follow Rugby World on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.