THE SON of a Newlyn fisherman who started playing rugby in Penzance at the age of 5 looks set to make his England debut in this weekend's Six Nations.
Jack Nowell flew to France with the England squad earlier this week, hoping to make his debut in Paris on Saturday in front of his parents, Michael and Louisa, and younger brothers, Henry, 14, and Frankie, 11.
If the 20-year-old former Pirates youngster does make an appearance on the field, he will be the first west Cornwall rugby player to play for his country at the top level for more than 30 years.
His dad Michael, a trawler skipper, and Louisa, a cook, try to watch most of Jack's club matches when he plays on the wing for the Exeter Chiefs and were also in France last summer when they witnessed their son helping England Under 20s lift the World Cup in Vannes.
They paid tribute to the dedication and hard work he puts in to being a success as a rugby player.
"Away from rugby he's pretty laid-back and he likes to get home to switch off and relax," said Louisa.
"But we know how hard he works – how he has missed out on holidays and nights out; he had only one day off for Christmas and had to go back up to Exeter on Christmas evening. When he was selected for the England elite squad, I had hundreds of texts from friends congratulating us but it's all been down to him.
"Rugby definitely comes first for Jack – he is the one who has been determined and focused; he won't allow himself to be distracted."
Jack's emergence as one of England's brightest young talents has been meteoric. He has played the game since the age of 5 – going through the Pirates' mini-junior age groups under the watchful eye of coaches Nicky Brooks, Dave Elliott and Peter Lug. But it was only since leaving Mounts Bay School to join Truro College and then playing a season of senior rugby with Redruth at the age of 17 that his ability really shone through.
After that breakthrough season, Jack joined the Exeter Academy and he has been a full-time rugby player ever since. And despite his swift elevation through the rugby ranks, Jack is not overawed by the opposition – no matter who he is playing against.
"When he was Frankie's age, his heroes were Jason Robinson and Jonny Wilkinson," said Michael.
"So when Exeter played Toulon recently I asked him if he felt any extra nerves playing against Wilkinson but he said, 'no, I just go out and try to play my game'."
Michael believes that playing for Exeter has given him a great boost. "I think that Exeter's style of play helps him with the England set-up.
"He's not the fastest wing around but he is powerful, has a good step and is strong defensively and Exeter play in a similar style to England."
Henry and Frankie are both following Jack through the Pirates' youth set-up and Frankie, who Michael believes is a better player than Jack at the same age, is very keen to follow in his brother's footsteps.
As The Cornishman interviewed Michael and Louisa on Tuesday, the Nowells were busy trying to organise their trip to Paris and joining them at the Stade de France, if Jack is selected, will be Nicky Brooks who, Louisa says, is "like a second dad".
Having coached Jack from the age of 5 to 16, the former Pirates' stalwart, who takes credit for teaching Jack his renowned tackling technique, said that what made Jack stand out was "a great attitude".
"When he was coming through you would have said that his team mates Chris Nicholas, Andrew Tester and Luke Cowan-Dickie were all better players," he said.
"I never expected him to become a winger but he excelled at centre and then we felt he would get more room to show off his ability so we switched him to full back.
"He didn't like it at first but recently he thanked me for making him play there. He was never big-headed or arrogant – although he liked a joke in the changing room – but he was a good listener and had an abundance of natural talent.
"I feel so proud that I've had a hand in where Jack and Luke have got so far," he added.
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