Jack Walker interview: Amazing England debut was everything I dreamed of and more... I was holding back tears
In the blink of an eye, Jack Walker was all choked up. Belting out God Save The King before England faced Italy nine days ago, the Harlequins hooker fixed his mum Suzanne’s gaze in the Twickenham crowd. Amid the Six Nations pomp, the 26-year-old suddenly had to hold back the tears.
Walker would later climb off the bench for his Test debut and help steer England home 31-14. A decade after his father John died and he moved in with older brother Chris as a 16-year-old chasing a career at Leeds, Walker had realised a family dream.
Only 1,452 people can tell you what it is like to debut for England’s men and, for Walker, the experience met every hope and expectation.
“I caught eyes with my mum in the crowd, and that just had me holding back the tears,” Walker told Standard Sport. “I didn’t realise how much the emotion would hit me, singing the anthem.
“I wouldn’t say I’m a very emotional person, but that got me. It just goes to show what a massive honour it is. It was truly amazing, everything I had dreamed of and more.
“You can’t prepare for that feeling. And then when I came onto the pitch it felt like I was in a video game. It was an amazing day.”
Walker had 17 family members and friends on hand at Twickenham. His late father’s absence only added to the poignancy for a family steeped in sport.
“To have my family there, it was a pinch-yourself moment,” added Walker. “My dad’s a massive inspiration. Just to get on the pitch, get that cap, a lot of that was for him.
“He would have been just as happy for me to be playing local rugby as playing for England. But it was a dream we always talked about in the car, from a young age, driving to and from training and matches.
“He took me all around the world in rugby, his support was massive. I’m sure he was looking down very happy.”
Walker’s move out of the family home to attend Prince Henry’s Grammar School in Otley for sixth form coincided with his father’s death.
The talented front-rower became Leeds’s youngest forward and, later, youngest captain, before five fruitful years at Bath. Now, two years into life at Harlequins, and with a contract extension just signed, Walker’s Test elevation represents just reward for one of the most respected and well-regarded of England’s current players.
When I came onto the pitch it felt like I was in a video game. It was an amazing day
“You’ve got to grow up pretty quickly when you move out at 16,” said Walker. “I moved in with Chris, who was already playing at Leeds, and it was a good life lesson.
“You’re chucked into the big wide world at 16 and you’ve got to find out what’s going on. It all helps in the long-run. Playing for Leeds alongside Chris was another massive moment for me.
“My eldest brother, Lee, was in the Burnley academy and a talented footballer. And my mum swam for Zimbabwe, so I’m very fortunate that my family knows about the highs and lows of sport.”
Walker’s England breakthrough has come on Steve Borthwick’s watch, leaving the new boss’s demanding standards as big a challenge as the international step-up.
“There’s a huge jump to this level,” said Walker. “Everyone’s working to get better each day — and if you’re not improving, you’ll get left behind. Steve runs a lot of lineout drills here that I’ve never done before.
“At first, you think, ‘these are a bit odd’, but then you realise why you’re doing them and that he’s testing you in a different way. It really helps mentally.”
Barring any strike action by their opponents, England will face Wales in Cardiff on Saturday with Walker determined to build on his Test bow.
“Jamie George presented me with my cap in the changing room,” said Walker. “That was special. He’s been a massive support and help to me.
“Deep down, we both want to start for England, but all he’s ever done is welcome me and help me get better. He’s a great guy to be learning from and chasing.
“It’s another massive week for us; we’ve got a lot to do and it’s just the start, but we’re putting in the work.”