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IN-DEPTH: Billy The Kid Aiming To Be Bristol's Sharpshooter

Billy Searle’s first team debut saw him thrust into the pressure cooker of a West Country derby - and little under four months later, against the same opponent, he lined up opposite the current incumbent of the England number ten shirt.

Yet the youngster, who was playing in National One for Plymouth Albion last season, seems to have taken it all in his stride. In fact, the 20-year-old has passed almost every challenge presented to him - during his short tenure at Bristol - with flying colours and after a meteoric rise into the limelight, Searle admits even he is surprised at the speed of his progress.

“It’s gone very well for me this year,” he says. “I’ve had quite a lot of opportunities and I’ve really enjoyed the time that I’ve had in the first team. Hopefully there is more to come from me and I can keep going, keep pushing on and keep getting better.

“I got thrown straight in for the derby match against Bath and that was a big start for me. It went all right - apart from the result - and I didn’t try and overthink it too much, I tried to just get on with my normal game and I really enjoyed it.

“The Premiership is obviously a massive step up from National One and I thought it would take a bit longer for me to get a chance. I was obviously hopeful of coming here and eventually getting into the first team and when that chance came along, luckily it went well and I was able to hang on to my spot and kick on.

“I definitely feel a lot more comfortable out there now and as a young lad, you gain the respect of your fellow players by playing.”

BOXING DAY BONANZA: Billy Searle sends Tom Varndell in for a try against Worcester Warriors (Photo: JMP UK). 

As well as a cultured left foot and sharp turn of pace, Searle’s inclination to attack is both instinctual and admirable, as the Boxing Day showdown with Worcester Warriors perfectly demonstrated. Acceleration, footwork and a pinpoint pass saw Searle put Tom Varndell in for the game’s opening score as Bristol overcame Tusi Pisi’s red card to record a first league win of the season – and while acknowledging his attacking strengths, the 20-year-old is well aware of the areas of his game that need improvement.

“I’d say I’m quite an instinctive player, quite a relaxed player,” says Searle. “I like to run with the ball and I feel I’ve got quite a good running game; I like to make space for other people and I see myself as a good kicker, but that’s also an area that can be worked on. The big step up at this level is that you get punished for poor kicks, so that’s an improvement I need to make.”

The acknowledgement of not necessarily weaknesses, but the unpolished areas of his game, is a sure-fire sign of maturity in a young player, while a willingness to learn is an indication that Searle won’t be resting on his laurels. The academy youngster says he has benefitted immensely from the rafts of experience either side of him - both in the midst of battle and on the training paddock – and former Cornwall star is grateful for the advice and guidance afforded to him by his teammates.

INSTINCT: Billy Searle glides past Jonathan Joseph on his Aviva Premiership debut against Bath (Photo: JMP UK). 

“Just training with the likes of Gav (Gavin Henson), Tusi (Pisi) and Jarv (Adrian Jarvis), it’s so beneficial and they help me a lot with different aspects of my game.

“Their chat, the way they look at the game; for me, I’m just trying to learn as much as I can from these guys.

“I feel as though I’m thriving off the pressure of training everyday at such intensity. It’s my first year of full-time professional rugby and the first time I’ve been training every day of the week, so my game has come on leaps and bounds and hopefully I continue going this way.”

Whether it’s the confidence of youth or something ingrained much deeper in his makeup, Searle appears to deal with pressure remarkably well for such a young man. For him, the enjoyment of showcasing his skills on the big stage supersedes any perceived pressure, although he admits he’s not immune to a few pre-match nerves.

“I guess everyone feels pressure, but I feel I deal with it quite well and I’m pretty relaxed when I play," he says.

“Although it is the Premiership, I’m trying to stay as relaxed as I can out there and enjoy every moment of it. As a ten, I think it’s I important to stay relaxed, that’s a big part of the game, being able to stay calm and think clearly.

“If you make a mistake, as a ten or as any position, you’ve got to put it to the back of your mind and think about the next job and I’ve always been pretty relaxed when I play. I like to play what’s in front of me, not overthink things and just play what I see.”

APPLAUSE: Searle shows his appreciation for the travelling support after victory over Sale (Photo: JMP UK). 

It’s been a year of change for Searle - and not just on the field. Upping sticks and moving 100 miles north of his family home in Okehampton has presented its own challenges – namely washing, cooking and cleaning.

“I miss my mum,” says Searle, smiling. “Obviously, moving away from home was a bit of an eye opener, but I’ve got used to looking after myself. I used to go home whenever I got the chance, but I’ve adapted and now I quite enjoy having my own space – of course, I still miss home and my family though.

“Bristol is an ideal spot for me and I really enjoy the area. I’m enjoying living away from home and the more I spend away from it, the less I want to go back.”

In January, the Guardian highlighted Searle as ‘one-to-watch’ in 2017 and if last year’s progress is anything to go by, their prediction looks to be a good one – just as long as he can see his mum from time to time.

By Will Carpenter.