Meet the Saints second-row who is balancing pro rugby with a politics degree
Northampton lock Alex Coles
When did you first play rugby?
I was about ten. I started at Newmarket. My dad played when he was younger whereas I’d always played football and cricket, so he said I should try rugby.
Did you like it straightaway?
It took me a bit of time. I was always one of the taller people in my year and when that started to be advantageous in rugby, when I was around 13, I really enjoyed it.
I moved around clubs – Newmarket, Shelford and Cambridge – and I played all three sports until I was 16, which is when I focused on rugby.
When did you link up with Saints?
I was picked up from my school, The Perse, at about 14 or 15 through the academy. I took it more seriously when I was 16.
Have you always been a lock?
I played a bit at No 8 at school and a couple of times I went into the backs for fun, but it’s second-row now. I’ve grown into it.
What are your strengths?
I think I’m relatively mobile for a second-row and that I’ve got a good lineout game. That’s something I’m trying to work on. Then just my game understanding, knowing where to be around the pitch and making good decisions.
Any childhood heroes?
A big one was Thierry Henry. From a rugby point of view, Courtney Lawes was always someone I watched growing up. I liked the way he played and was involved in every facet. Fortunately I’ve had a chance to play alongside him, which has been awesome.
Who have been the biggest influences on your career?
Peter Walton, the former England age-group forwards coach, really helped in terms of encouraging me to focus on things I’m best at rather than just improving things I need to work at. He gave me confidence.
At Saints, Phil Dowson has helped me with that transition from the academy to men’s rugby and Premiership rugby.
What are your goals for the next year?
To try to nail down a position in the Saints team. There’s healthy competition in the second row but I don’t want to be seen as a promising player coming up in 12 months, I want to make a mark and make a starting position my own. I get on well with the other second-rows and we all drive and push each other.
Do you study outside of rugby?
I’m in the second year of a part-time course in politics, philosophy and history at Birkbeck University in London. I went to an academic school and my dad is quite academic, so that was always my main focus as a kid. I’ve always enjoyed learning and keeping myself ticking over, plus it’s important as a back-up option if rugby doesn’t go to plan.
RW Verdict: He’s represented England U16, U18, U19 and U20, and has made his Premiership breakthrough over the past year. He suffered an ankle injury after lockdown but should continue his excellent progress in the 2020-21 season.
This article originally appeared in the November 2020 edition of Rugby World magazine.
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