Academy youngster Harry Strong hopes to use the Anglo-Welsh Cup as the perfect ‘stepping stone’ to help develop his career at Exeter Chiefs.
Handed his senior debut in last weekend’s Round One clash at Harlequins, the 19-year-old is poised to get another opportunity this Sunday when the Devon club play host to Cardiff Blues at Sandy Park (3pm).
Brought on as a first half replacement for the injured Phil Dollman a week ago, Strong certainly did not look out of place as he fitted in nicely to the Exeter back division.
For the player himself it was a moment to savour and something he had craved ever since he picked up a rugby ball all those years ago.
“It was phenomenal to get on and play my first game,” he said. “I got on probably a lot earlier than I thought I would have, but that probably helped in a way. I was a little nervous before the game, but once I got onto the pitch all that went and all I wanted to do was play well and just do my best.”
Although the Chiefs suffered a 29-15 defeat in the end, Strong believes the competition is still alive for Ricky Pellow’s side and that they must deliver a big performance against the Welsh region this weekend.
“It was disappointing at the end because it’s never nice when you don’t win,” added Strong. “If we’re honest we probably gave away too many penalties and that allowed them to kind of control the game.
“It’s something we have talked about a lot this week and now we have go out there this weekend, work hard for one another and really take the game to Cardiff.”
With the Chiefs keen to allow youth their chance in competitions like that of the Anglo-Welsh, Strong and a handful of the club’s other academy graduates will again be thrust into the fray for this latest encounter.
“I think if we get our chance, like we did last weekend, we have to take it with both hands,” said the Exeter-born back. “For all of us it’s a stepping stone in terms of our development.
“Obviously it’s good to have boys the same age as me around the side. People like Keasty and Joe Simmonds I’ve grown up playing with, so it was good for all of us to make that first start together last weekend.
“At the same time, the senior boys are just as good. They are always talking to us and offering advice on how to do things that can help us improve. In training they are very supportive because if you do make a mistake, they don’t tend to get on your back as they know you’re giving 100 per cent.
“That kind of support, along with the backing we get from the coaches as well is just brilliant. For me, working with the likes of Ali Hepher and Ricky Pellow, it’s really brought my game on and there door is always open if you need to ask them anything.”
And Strong was also quick to praise the input given to him by others within the Academy set-up in the past two years.
“I was pretty late coming into the academy, but from day one it’s been phenomenal. People like Rob Gibson, Glenn Channing, Sam Morton and Rich Tucker, without the support they gave me early on, I don’t think I’d be where I am now.
“They helped get me from college to the Chiefs and really helped my whole game come on leaps and bounds. Personally, I can’t thank them enough for what they have done.”
Now, the next step for Strong is to deliver on the bigger stage and what better setting than Sandy Park this Sunday.
— Exeter Chiefs (@ExeterChiefs) November 9, 2016