Ricky Pellow has watched Jack Nowell progress from being a 14-year-old playing in Cornwall to now being on the verge of winning his first England cap.
Pellow, in his role with Exeter Chiefs’ academy, was talent spotting for the schools of rugby that feed players into the academy system when he first came across Nowell.
The slight young lad was playing for Penzance under-14s against Redruth, alongside a certain Luke Cowan-Dickie.
Former Bath player Pellow liked what he saw and got Nowell involved from there, going on to work with him at the academy’s Cornish base at Truro College before he progressed to training at Sandy Park when he was 18.
Nowell’s rise has not stopped as in the last 12 months he has established himself in the Chiefs’ starting XV, starred for England under-20s as they won the IRB Junior World Championship and has now been named on the right wing for England’s Six Nations match against France in Paris on Saturday evening (5pm).
Pellow thinks some of the attributes Nowell had as a 14-year-old are still serving him well today.
“I went down to watch Penzance versus Redruth under-14s when I was looking at the schools of rugby and Jack and Luke Cowan-Dickie were involved,” said Pellow, who is now Exeter’s skills coach.
“Jack stood out in that match and we started working with him from then, bringing him into the schools of rugby and then through the county set-up to Truro College.
“When he was younger he wasn’t the biggest player on the field so what he had to rely on was his footwork. I think that really helped him develop later on. Now when you see him play he’s got a good balanced game. He can step off both feet and, as he has grown and moved forward, he has developed a real power game.
“What has served him well, from 14 right the way through to starting on Saturday, is that he’s got an unbelievably professional work ethic. If you ask him to do anything or do extras he does it – he’s always in the gym and the first on the field.
“He’s very dedicated to what he does and he shows that a lot of hard work and dedication along the way pays dividends.”
However, while his list of achievements in the last year are pretty phenomenal, it has not all been a bed of roses for Nowell.
After breaking into Exeter’s Premiership side by starting against London Irish in November 2012, a bang to the head a few weeks later saw him miss out on several matches for his club but also the start of England under-20s’ Six Nations campaign.
When he was fit again he quickly muscled Argentina international Gonzalo Camacho out of the first team, starting the final 11 games of the campaign and playing his part as Exeter won seven of them.
And after returning home on a high following the under-20s’ success last summer, Nowell was told he was going to be rested to allow him to properly recover from a long-standing knee issue.
He took that in his stride, returned to action in November and started nine games in a row, including both matches against Toulon in the Heineken Cup.
Pellow was very impressed with the way Nowell handled the setbacks.
“The last year has been very positive for Jack, he’s won the World Cup and now he’s going away with England,” said Pellow.
“Before that he had a serious knee injury and he missed the England under-18s tour, but he never let it get him down. Everyone at the club – the physios, conditioners and coaching staff – would say he kept his head down, did everything he needed to do, worked really hard and got himself through a pretty tough time, having to miss out on some big games and having the chance to kick on after last summer.
“He came back after the rest at the start of the season and you would never have known he’d been out because he did all the little things while he was away, and that’s a massive credit to him.”
Pellow thinks Nowell’s rise can be an example for young lads entering the Chiefs’ academy now about how to handle themselves and dedicate themselves to their sport.
Nowell is not the only shining star of recent times as he was one of five players in England under-20s’ squad last summer along with Sam Hill, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Henry Slade and Joel Conlon.
Hill and Slade have gone on to represent England’s second string, the Saxons, along with Dave Ewers, who moved onto a senior contract last summer.
Pellow hopes Nowell’s success, as well as the recent academy deals for Tom Hendrickson, Max Bodilly and Jack Oulton, will show that there are several ways of making it to the top.
He said: “If you look at Jack, he wasn’t always a regular in the county game at under-14s, 15s and 16s. It shows you don’t have to be a county player, so long as you show potential and work hard you can make it.
“We’ve got Tom Hendrickson and Max Bodilly who have just been contracted, they’ve developed and come through late. There’s not one clear pathway that you have to play county rugby and play for England under-16s, 17s and 18s.
“We’ve got Jack playing for England, Henry Slade, Sam Hill and Dave Ewers all featuring last week in the Saxons, and if Luke Cowan-Dickie keeps doing what he’s doing and training and playing professionally it won’t be long before he’s knocking on the door for honours as well.
“We have a massive five to 10-year plan now with some really exciting youngsters coming through.
“We played the South West under-16s on Sunday and we had six players in the South West team and we had some under-15 lads playing at under-16s level, so it’s a massively exciting time. We played Leicester under-19s on Wednesday and beat them 12-0 at Topsham Rugby Club.
“Jack is at the top and what he has done is outstanding. It’s a real marker for those players at a younger age to look up to him. They’ll see him pull on the shirt on Saturday and whether you’re from Cornwall or Devon you’ll see what you can do if you work hard.”
There is no doubt that once Exeter’s LV= Cup game at Worcester is over, Pellow will be keen to get in front of a TV screen on Saturday and see Nowell run out for his country.
Flanker Tom Johnson blazed a trail in 2012 as he became the first Exeter player for 48 years to play for England in a Test. And he became the first player from the club to score a point for England when he dotted down against Fiji later that year.
Nowell will follow in his teammate’s footsteps and will be cheered on by everyone associated with Exeter Chiefs, be that as a player, coach, employee or supporter.
“From myself and Robin Cowling being involved with the academy, we’re unbelievably proud of all our players, not just Jack,” said Pellow.
“For us to see Jack step out and play for England is going to be a massively proud day for us, and for Cornwall as well. I’m from Cornwall and I think it’s a massive testament to Cornish rugby that we are producing these players.
“All the coaches at the club are going to be watching and really looking forward to seeing how Jack goes.
“He’s made that step along with Tom Johnson and shown whether you’re 29/30 or 19/20, if you play well you can really push on and get international honours.
“We’re going to be watching and it’s going to be a very proud day, as it was when Tom Johnson played as well.”
Nowell has come a long way in six years, but the way he has been brought along by the likes of Pellow is sure to serve him well in the Stade de France on Saturday evening.