Find out more about teenage Tigers prop Joe Heyes
Leicester and England U20 prop Joe Heyes
Date of birth 13 April 1999 Born Nottingham Club Leicester Country England Position Tighthead prop
When did you first play rugby? When I was 14, after I quit football. I’d had an interest before but I was a goalkeeper in the Nottingham Forest Academy.
My dad’s a former professional footballer for Forest as a goalkeeper and my granddad had been a goalkeeper for Leicester City, but I didn’t want to do it any more. It was quite a hostile environment. I quit and across the road was a rugby club called Nottingham Moderns.
Did you like it immediately?
I loved it before I’d even played a game! After my first training session, my mum said I had a massive smile on my face. There was a brilliant bunch at Moderns, then I moved to Newark and then Tigers.
What was your first position?
Outside-centre – I wasn’t prop-size at 14 and I was a bit faster than I am now! Then I went to eight and I moved to the front row when I went to Tigers at 16.
I first played there aged 17, so I’ve been a tighthead for two-and-a-half years. I love scrummaging. And it means I can eat more, which is a bonus!
Who’s been the biggest influence on you?
To name a few, Dave Charles at Newark. Peter Walton, the old England U18 coach, helped me through the big transition to prop. More recently, Boris Stankovich is very supportive.
You’ve had senior game time at Tigers this season – how’s that been?
The first game I experienced a massive crowd was the U20 World Cup final (against France last year), but now I’m playing week in, week out in front of big crowds. It’s nerve-racking and you have to learn how to stay calm, to get comfortable under pressure. It’s helped me improve.
Who were your childhood heroes?
Logovi’i Mulipola, who was here and is now at Newcastle, was one of my idols. And Cian Healy. My mum’s Irish and Healy is a guy I’ve kept an eye on. Two props!
Would you play for Ireland?
I’ve chosen England – I’m English – but I keep in touch with my Irish family. They came to watch me play Ulster.
What do you do away from rugby?
I recently did a butchery course to learn about different cuts of meat. I’ve always been passionate about cooking and after rugby I’d like to be a chef or open a restaurant.
RW VERDICT: Heyes has spoken of his battles with anxiety after moving to Leicester at 16 to join the academy – he went home for eight months. Yet this year he is thriving in the Tigers environment and playing for England U20 too.
This article originally appeared in the March 2019 edition of Rugby World magazine.
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