Hartpury old boy Billy Burns and current undergraduate Stephen Varney are the latest Hartpury rugby connections to receive international call-ups as the new Nations Cup competition kicks off this weekend.
Burns, who moved to Ulster from our neighbours Gloucester Rugby two seasons ago, is named on the bench for Ireland’s match at home to Wales on Friday night, while scrum half Varney – who has made his big breakthrough with the Cherry & Whites after last season’s restart – is a replacement for Italy against Scotland. He is qualified via an Italian mother.
Billy (left) was an important member of the Hartpury College AASE squad from 2010-2012, before going on to make a significant number of appearances for Hartpury RFC. He was a regular member of the side that won promotion from National League 2 in 2014. Appearances after that season were limited, as he began to see more and more game time at Kingsholm.
Stephen (right) also won an AASE-winners medal and played BUCS (university) rugby as recently as last season. We might also have expected him to build on his small number of RFC appearances, had he not accelerated so rapidly into first-team contention at Gloucester.
Burns and Varney follow hot on the heels of both Jonny Hill (bottom, right) and Wales flyer, Louis Rees-Zammit. Hill made his England debut in their last fixture (against Italy a fortnight ago), capping off a tremendous run of games in which he collected both European Champions Cup and Premiership medals for his club side, Exeter Chiefs. Like Burns, Hill played AASE rugby at Hartpury College before moving on to both Gloucester Rugby and the RFC.
Rees-Zammit (left), yet another double AASE-winner, got a first run out for Wales three weeks ago in Paris, before injury caused him to miss their final Six Nations fixture with Scotland. His elevation to international status came on the back of a sensational first full season with Gloucester.
“It’s a tremendous testament to the program here that we continually help to develop full internationals,” said Hartpury Director of Rugby, John Barnes.
“Jonny and Billy came through the U18 program in 2012 under coaches Barry Maddocks and Alan Martinovic. They were part of an exceptional side that remained unbeaten and double AASE Champions.”
“Stephen and Louis are more recent products through our U18 and, in Stephen’s case, university programmes. Heading over from Wales, both soon showed their class and abilities and quickly progressed their games as elements of another successful AASE team. It was only this time last year that Stephen made his debut for the BUCS team in Super Rugby, while everyone knows what Louis has done in the Premiership.”
“In both cases, a rapid rise to full international caps, but fully deserved.”
In all, EIGHT Hartpury rugby connections have been selected for national squads this weekend. Varney will join regulars Seb Negri and Jake Polledri for Italy, with Callum Braley missing out on this occasion. Jonny May, Ellis Genge and Dan Robson will all wear the red rose of England, while Burns’ former AASE team-mate, Merab Sharikadze, has the continued honour of captaining Georgia.
The total this weekend could have been even higher, had Hill been included by England and had Ross Moriarty and Rees-Zammit been given runs for Wales.
Good luck to all of our boys!