England’s Nottingham-born rugby star Joe Heyes has paid tribute to his state school education as he prepares for this year’s Six Nations tournament.
Heyes, 23, was this week named in new manager Steve Borthwick’s first England squad.
The Leicester Tigers prop forward – who as a teenager was a goalkeeper in the Nottingham Forest Academy – is a former pupil of Toot Hill Secondary School, in Bingham.
He also played for local rugby clubs Nottingham Moderns and Newark.
Heyes told CBJ Target: “The PE teachers [at Toot Hill] made a rugby team out of misfits and we played other schools. We got battered every week, but it was really good fun.
“It was also a really nice way of enjoying the sport really early on. The teachers were really, really good.”
Earlier this month former England rugby coach Eddie Jones claimed that English rugby suffered because it was dominated by players who have been to public school. And Heyes, whose dad and granddad were both professional footballers, said he understood Jones’ comments.
“Unfortunately, there is still a lot of wasted talent. Rugby was always stereotypically seen as a posh sport, only played by people in private schools. But there has been a big improvement in the accessibility of rugby since I started playing at 14.”
Heyes – who already has seven caps for England – said he was proud to be state-school educated – and representing Nottinghamshire in international rugby.
“I’m very proud for myself and for my family. It’s a reflection of my hard work and determination but also everyone else’s effort too. It’s nice to represent the community where you are from.”
His mum Rachel, who works at Nottingham Trent University, added: “”Joe didn’t go to a private school and it was obvious early on that a lot of the other kids in rugby did.
“We were from a fairly ordinary background and Joe grew up in a single-parent family from the age of 11. So, all of those things combined made me even more proud.
“Now, Joe will stay behind after the game and talk to fans. He’s very generous with his time and that’s just brilliant to see.
“I think, it’s easy to get caught up in the spin of professional sport and think you’re some kind of celebrity. But Joe is incredibly grounded, which is fantastic. All of those things combined make me even prouder.”
Steve Borthwick took over from Eddie Jones on December 19.
Borthwick’s England squad begin their Six Nations campaign at Twickenham against Scotland on February 4.