It’s not all been plain sailing at London Irish for Tom Smallbone but the young prop says he is learning all the time after steadily working his way through the ranks at the Aviva Premiership Rugby side.
Smallbone has progressed through every stage of the London Irish Academy and has this year enjoyed one of his most fruitful on the pitch with nine Aviva Premiership Rugby appearances as well as European caps to boot.
But, with first-team rugby, comes the prospect of facing up to hard-hitting international props with Smallbone remembering all-too-well the difficulty in squaring off with Bath Rugby’s Henry Thomas earlier this term.
But he insists that he is soaking up the know-how from every encounter and, having signed a new contract at the end of last year, he believes London Irish is the perfect place to help foster a potential international career.
“To have signed a new deal and to be playing for the first team is amazing really and I am living my boyhood dream,” said Smallbone.
“I’ve been able to play a fair amount this season which is great and it’s a really big learning curve for me.
“I remember playing against Bath this season and playing against Henry Thomas and he was so strong and I think I was a bit naive in the scrum.
“Those are the moments that you learn from though and I am trying to make sure that when things like that happen I learn from them and don’t make the same mistakes again.
“In the long term I want to play for Irish for as long as I can and I want to be part of helping the team progress, challenge for the top places and eventually win the Premiership.
“I think we have struggled over the last few years with some things but we have the structure and can do it and hopefully that progress can lead me into the England side one day.”
This weekend will see Smallbone and London Irish play out their final European Rugby Challenge Cup pool match away at Agen with qualification prospects hanging by a thread.
Last weekend saw Irish fall to a 28-18 defeat FC Grenoble but Smallbone says his side haven’t been deterred from their quest to progress in Europe and will be looking for five points this weekend.
“It was disappointing to lose that match,” he added. “But the chance to qualify is still there so we will do everything to try and take it.
“It’ll be a great experience to go out there and play and we will look to really apply some pressure in those opening 30 minutes and hopefully get the bonus-point win.”