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Will Carpenter

Will Carpenter writes

Posted Friday, February 23rd 2018

In-Depth: Impromptu invitation boosts 'game-changing' Boyland

It was early August and Blake Boyland had only come along to watch first team training - but just ten minutes in, head coach, Pat Lam wandered over to ask the young scrum-half if he had any boots with him.

As luck would have it, he did, and wasted little time in retrieving them before taking his place on the training field.

Boyland had hoped to gain a greater insight into the club’s professional environment purely by watching, but now, he was in the thick of action – and not even a minor niggle sustained that week was going to prevent him from partaking.

“I had come in to watch training with TJ Wilstead (Bristol Academy U18), and Pat (Lam) came over, introduced himself and then asked if I had some boots with me,” explained Boyland.

“Annoyingly, I’d just picked up an ankle injury, so I couldn’t do too much, but I did some passing with the other nines, which was an amazing experience.

“It was frustrating not to get more involved, but hopefully there will be more opportunities in the future.

“Having Pat come over to speak to me, and then invite me into training, it was such a great opportunity and I enjoyed every second of it. To train alongside guys who have played for their club – and in Rhodri Williams’ case, their country – was unforgettable and gave me a real boost.”

Blake Boyland in action for Bristol Academy U18 against Harlequins U18 (JMP UK).

Blake knows his rugby journey is only in its infancy, but a call-up to John Fletcher’s England U18 squad last week - despite still qualifying for the U17 age group – has put the exciting youngster on the right path.

A string of impressive performances in the Academy U18 League, saw Boyland catch the selectors’ eye, and the 17-year-old says the prospect of pulling on the Red Rose is a hugely exciting one.

“I was just watching TV at home when I got the call to say I was invited to the training camp,” he said.

“I’d heard one of the scrum halfs had got injured, so I was hoping it would be me who was called up – thankfully, it was.

“I’ve never been in this environment before, so I’m sure the skill level will be a lot higher, it’ll be a lot more physical, but it will be a nice challenge.

“The first game is against France in a couple of weeks, so I’m hoping to be involved in that, either starting or on the bench, that’s the aim.”

As a current member of the Academy U18 side, Boyland has worked closely with Academy backs coach, Sean Marsden over the past few seasons – and credits the former Bristol full-back with helping him reach his current level of performance.

“Blake has always been a player who gets up off your seat and you know he will produce game-changing moments. He has a phenomenal skill set and the confidence to test the opposition and himself."

Sean Marsden, Academy backs coach

“Beanie (Sean Marsden) has always been there to help me - if there’s an opportunity, he always pushes me towards it,” he said. “Earlier in the season, I was called up for the Bristol United versus Oxford University game and I’m sure he had a big part to play in that.

“He’s always helping me out, progressing my skills levels and putting a lot of time into me.”

Marsden, an exciting and elusive runner himself during his playing days, has encouraged Boyland to express himself on the field, and says the SGS Filton half-back has all the qualities required to make his mark in the game.

“Blake is an unbelievably talented lad and a pleasure to work with,” said Marsden. “He always has a smile on his face and the energy he brings to the group is infectious.

“Blake has always been a player who gets up off your seat and you know he will produce game-changing moments. Alongside a very strong passing and kicking game, Blake has a phenomenal skill set and the confidence to test the opposition and himself."

“I like to look for the gaps when they are there,” added Boyland. “I like to get around the pitch and I’m always working hard at my passing, like every scrum half.

“Working with Beanie has been a huge help – he’s put on extra drills and sessions for me to help me with my skills.”

Boyland has been an ever-present in the Academy U18s side this season and accepts they fallen short during the current campaign. But the scrum-half will have a chance to put it right next season, when, he is once again eligible for the U18 age group – and with international experience under his belt, Boyland knows he will be expected to lead by example.

“It’s been a tough season for the U18s. I think we’ve been unlucky in places, but we’ve also had leads going into half time and ended up losing, so that’s been disappointing.

“I think seeing how (Will) Capon and Powelly (Charlie Powell) have stepped up this season, having been involved in the senior setup, they’ve taken on leadership roles and I know that that’s something I’ll have to – and want to – fill going forward.”

Ahead of the England U18 training camp held in Bristol this week, Boyland spent some time with Senior Academy number nine, Andy Uren to talk all things scrum half. The path taken by home-grown Uren is one Boyland will be keen to follow, as he sets out to make the transition into the club’s professional ranks – but first things first, a maiden international campaign awaits.

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