Henry Arundell interview: 'I play on instinct – it is much easier than forcing things'

·4-min read
Henry Arundell scored the standout try of the game even as Australia beat England 30-28 - GETTY IMAGES
Henry Arundell scored the standout try of the game even as Australia beat England 30-28 - GETTY IMAGES

Seven minutes. That is all it took for Henry Arundell to prove that the hype that had been growing exponentially for months was for real.

It is one thing to score wonder tries in the Challenge Cup or in training matches and quite another to embarrass international rugby players with such consummate ease, which is exactly what Arundell did in coming off the bench against Australia at the Optus Stadium on Saturday.

Receiving Freddie Steward’s pass, the London Irish wing stepped off both feet to leave Andrew Kellaway and Noah Lolesio clattering into each other, like a pair of Keystone Cops chasing a stray dog. One more hitch kick and he was past James O’Connor down the sideline for what must surely rank as the most sensational first touch in international rugby history.

Just to prove it was no fluke, Arundell sliced the Australia defence apart just moments later when he latched onto Smith’s inside ball to leave yet more Wallabies on their backsides. In little more than two minutes, Arundell had accounted for half the line breaks England had made in the entire match.

Lolesio was sin-binned for slapping down another pass intended for him. Eddie Jones, usually loath to heighten expectations around young players, has variously compared Arundell to Matt Giteau, Bryan Habana and David Campese in recent weeks. To misquote Public Enemy, do believe the hype.

Yet ask Arundell about the science behind the dissection of the Australia defence and he makes it sound so simple. His instructions beforehand were simple. “Just get on the ball. Play with your instincts”. In a lesson you feel could serve a few other England players well, Arundell insists he is not playing to any predefined script.

Arundell gave the Australia defence nightmares on Saturday - GETTY IMAGES
Arundell gave the Australia defence nightmares on Saturday - GETTY IMAGES

“That’s what I’ve been doing all season,” Arundell said. “Before I went on, Gengey and Curry just said: ‘Get the ball’. It was the same when I went on, [Joe] Marchant and Marcus [Smith] said: ‘We’re going to get you the ball,’ then Fred gave me a good pass. It was just: ‘Go – and see what happens.’ There was no thinking to it, I just tried to find space, get off the tackle and try to score.

“It’s a complete instinct thing and that’s how I want to play. I don’t want to start overthinking stuff and forcing things. Everyone is guilty of forcing things – I’ve done it as well – but I’ve learned that when you play on instinct it’s so much easier.

“Those training-ground tries do a lot for me, personally. They build that confidence so that when you do get on the pitch, you’re used to doing that kind of thing. So I’m not thinking: ‘I’m going to step him this way.’ It’s more a case of see space and take it.”

Concerning the wonder try that he scored in training last week, which left several senior coaches from different sports open-mouthed in amazement, Arundell was thoroughly nonplussed. “It was quite nice because sometimes you don’t get to open up speed-wise in training,” Arundell said. “I kind of got the space that time, but it’s a training try at the end of the day, nothing major.”

At that point, Arundell was still an apprentice. In the book according to Eddie Jones, apprentices learn ropes and make teas. Just a year earlier, Arundell was leaving school, but here he was on the teamsheet in Perth, still with his A-plates attached. “I wasn’t expecting to play, to be honest,” Arundell said. “I’m still an apprentice player, so I just thought I’d see what happens.”

Approaching his debut, Arundell made sure he soaked every second in. “Everyone who does professional sport wants to keep getting better and keep getting that next milestone,” Arundell said. “But at the moment, I don’t want to fast-forward too much. I want to appreciate what has happened, and think about how to get better because it’s great to score a try but we didn’t win. The main focus is winning this series and winning the World Cup next year.”

By the time Arundell was introduced, England were out of the game at 30-14 down. What he described as “an incredible, incredible day” for him and his family will still be marred by the sting of a collective defeat. Rooming with Owen Farrell last week gave him an insight into that kind of mentality.

“It’s great to score a try but guys like Faz have almost played 100 Tests and that’s the goal for me, to be at that sort of level,” Arundell said. “He gave me one of his shirts after the game to say well done. There’s a mutual understanding that, great, that’s happened, but the Test series is the main thing – and winning the World Cup.”

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