Last year’s Rugby World Cup meant that the Anglo-Welsh Cup took a one-year sabbatical, but on its return Wasps winger Tom Howe took full advantage of the opportunity for playing time.
The 21-year-old was named the Anglo-Welsh Breakthrough Player of the Year for his performances with Wasps, most notably in a stellar outing against Worcester Warriors.
This year the competition is being supported by Citizen Watch UK who will provide Howe with the latest Citizen Skyhawk A-T watch and Gilbert who will supplied £1,000 worth of kit to a grassroots club of his choice. And as Howe selected Beaconsfield RFC, his old club he went there recently to hand over the kit.
Howe follows in the footsteps of current England internationals like Jack Nowell, and Howe admits it was something of a shock.
He said: “It was a bit of a surprise to be honest, especially when you consider the talented players nominated, who have a lot of Aviva Premiership Rugby experience like Harry Mallinder.
“I’m really happy with it though and it’s been great for me to get the chance. The Anglo-Welsh Cup is great for any young player and it’s good to get the opportunity in big arenas.
“We were unfortunate not to make the semi-finals but I really enjoyed the experience.”
Wasps have a whole host of top wingers for Howe to turn to for advice, although given his size he admits that he is more in the mould of Christian Wade or Willie le Roux, than a bigger winger like Frank Halai.
However it is a winger from Saracens who he looks up to the most, revealing that Chris Ashton was his hero growing up.
He explained: “I am not 130kg so I have to be one of those quick guys using my pace and work-rate.
“Chris Ashton is a player I look up to in the way he plays the game. His fitness is unbelievable and when you are fit like that you can get through so much work around the park.
“We’ve got some great wingers at Wasps as well with Christian, Willie, Frank and Josh and you can always turn to them for advice.
“I’m never going to be as big as Frank, but if I can be fit and as quick as possible, I can still make an impact.”
A former javelin thrower as a youngster, as well as a sprinter, Howe spent most of last season on-loan at Jersey, cutting his teeth in the Championship – while coincidentally next season he will join Worcester, against whom he impressed in the Anglo-Welsh Cup.
And he continued that run against the Warriors in the Aviva A League, which is his main priority for the remainder of this season, scoring a hat-trick last week.
But Howe insists he will also being ready if required for the Aviva Premiership Rugby leaders.
He added: “I want to finish well with Wasps and they have been great over the last few years. We’ve got Newcastle next in the A League and we could still get through if results go our way so that would be good.
“It was a bit of a strange one for me going up against Worcester because I’d already signed for them, but the game went well and it’s always good to do well in front of your future employers.”
Howe won a public vote from a ten-strong shortlist of young stars with Northampton Saints’ Harry Mallinder as runner-up, and Jack Willis also of Wasps coming third.
He won his place on the shortlist with a superb performance – tracked by the boffins at OPTA – in round two when the 21-year-old found himself in the thick of the action as he scored a try and set up another.
He was in great form with the ball in hand; from just eight carries he made three clean breaks and beat two defenders, gaining 98 metres in the process.
The 21-year-old also impressed at the 2016 Singha Premiership Rugby 7s where he scored in the final as Wasps won the tournament.
Born in Milton Keynes, Howe cut his teeth at Beaconsfield RFC and has enjoyed loan spells at Championship side Jersey Reds and also with Coventry Rugby in National League One this season, signing for Worcester Warriors for the 2017-18 campaign.
The competition is open to the best Under-23 players in the Anglo-Welsh Cup with shortlisted players being named after each round and Howe joins an elite group to win the award. Launched in 2012, the Breakthrough Player Award celebrates and recognises those young players who have stood out in the tournament with previous winners including Nowell, Jonny May, Tom Collins and Ollie Devoto.
Using Opta match statistics, a forward and back from each round, along with two players with outstanding overall competition statistics formed the shortlist, which was submitted to a fan vote on www.new-heroes.com
The full shortlist was:
Zach Mercer – Bath Rugby
Josh Adams – Worcester Warriors
Sam Simmonds – Exeter Chiefs
Tom Howe – Wasps
James Chisholm – Harlequins
Stu Townsend – Exeter Chiefs
Harry Mallinder – Northampton Saints
Cameron Orr – Gloucester Rugby
Jack Willis – Wasps
Tom Whiteley – Saracens