Max Malins interview: Maybe missing the Tonga game was a blessing in disguise - it makes you want it even more

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 (POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
(POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Arriving at Twickenham for last Saturday’s Autumn Nations Series opener against Tonga was a “pretty immense” but “frustrating” experience that simply served to deepen Max Malins’s hunger for greater involvement with England.

Malins, with seven tries in his previous two games for Saracens, had been ruled out with a calf strain. So rather than playing, he had spent the morning training, and rather than entering the stadium on the team bus, he was just another spectator in a car at the back of the convoy.

Malins has eight caps for England, all since the pandemic arrived. Most were behind closed doors, while a couple had limited crowds, meaning Twickenham — the stadium Malins would attend with his father and two older brothers growing up — was a shadow of itself.

“I’d not seen the crowds like that before, everyone cheering the bus in,” he tells Standard Sport.

“I’d never experienced that, then to walk out with the stands filling up. It added to the frustration of not being out there, it makes you want it even more. Maybe it’s a blessing in disguise. I got to experience it, to take it in without the pressure of a game.”

Tomorrow against Australia, Malins’s chance arrives, although perhaps not as early as he would like. Having overcome his injury, he is the sole outside back on Eddie Jones’s 6-2 bench, so will experience the buzz of running out before 82,000 people at some stage.

In this transitional England squad, Malins is neither a member of the old guard nor brand new.

He has been involved for a while but opportunities have been limited. In the summer, he seemed certain to play two full matches against USA and Canada, only to go off with a shoulder injury inside 10 minutes of the first fixture. He has started just twice and played a total of 136 minutes for England.

“I have eight caps, but not felt like I’ve given it a proper go,” he says. “The summer was the perfect opportunity to get a few more minutes, but it got cut short.”

Malins’s latest injury was poorly timed. Early in Sarries’ game against Wasps, his calf felt sore, but not sore enough to leave the field. He went on to score four tries — to add to a hat-trick against Bath — before a scan on arrival in the England camp showed the damage.

“Injuries are part of the game but frustrating when they accumulate,” says Malins. “To be able to play through this one, then miss a couple of weeks was annoying.”

Malins’s glut of tries have come in a new position — wing. He considers the move — from full-back or fly-half — as one of many positives of a sabbatical at Bristol while Saracens were in the Championship.

“To learn a different way of playing, to integrate with new players is invaluable,” he says. “I loved every minute. The style of play was what I needed. To open my eyes to a new style gave me a new lease of life, a new confidence I’ve brought back to Saracens.”

One day, with Charles Piutau, the star Kiwi, returning from injury, Bristol coach Pat Lam collared Malins. “You want Charles in your team, and Pat put it bluntly to me,” he says. “There are two options this week: start on the wing, or come off the bench… it was an easy decision.”

Malins had never played wing, but the switch worked. In 14 Premiership games for Bristol, he scored 13 tries, and he has not let up at Sarries. “I don’t class myself as a winger, I’m a 15,” he says. “But I don’t mind playing there if it gets me on the pitch.”

Which position Malins fills tomorrow, who knows?

What we do know is he has waited long enough to hear that crowd’s roar.

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