On Saturday afternoon, Nathan Hughes is in line to complete a dramatic rise to the top of the international stage.
Having participated in last weekend’s historic victory over South Africa from the bench, the imposing Wasps number 8 is set to start at Twickenham against the country of his birth; Fiji.
Hughes’ opportunity has been handed to him for the second time in his career, through the absence of Billy Vunipola.
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After all, Hughes’ big move to England from the Auckland Blues came when Wasps were forced into the transfer market to replace Vunipola, following his switch to Saracens.
“I should really thank him over dinner,” jested Hughes. “I’ll probably shout him dinner one day and say, ‘Thank you for moving!”
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This time, Billy, whose recent performances have cemented him as one of the first names on the team sheet, is missing through injury.
In the short term, however, Vunipola’s reported inability to train until at least Thursday is likely to hand Hughes his first international start, giving him additional grounds for gratitude.
Fortune, however, is certainly not the only element which has allowed the 25-year-old to reach this stage.
Having stumbled into the game at age 16, hard work and a significant amount of natural talent have facilitated his meteoric rise.
His natural ability is apparent in the story of his introduction to rugby. Agreeing to participate in his first match only as his school team in Fiji were short of numbers, he was offered a rugby scholarship in New Zealand by the final whistle.
“I thought hockey was a tough sport because you have a hard stick and a hard ball and you can be battered by both,” reasoned Hughes.
After getting his first taste of action on a rugby field, his early opinion of hockey as the toughest of sporting arenas and rugby being a mere “girl’s sport,” quickly dissipated.
“In rugby there are 15 people trying to tackle you, so yeah, I have changed my mind,” Hughes said. Rugby IS a hard sport.”
Such humble beginnings for Hughes developed into a success story which is still ongoing.
After excelling at Kelston Boys High School in New Zealand and in high-quality 7s tournaments in Fiji, a move to Auckland further contributed to a brief but quality education in the game.
Having only recently qualified for England on grounds of residency, such immediate involvement under Eddie Jones, speaks volumes to how highly he is regarded.
After receiving his first cap, Hughes commented: “I feel English now, I can say I’m an English person now and it’s my country.’
“It was a long time coming but now the time is here, I’ve got my first cap and I’m excited to get more.”
“It will be very special to make this first start against Fiji.”
Hughes is raring to go and is one to watch on Saturday as England look to extend their winning run to an impressive eleven matches.
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