‘Discovered’ at one of the Premiership Rugby Academy Camps run on a regular basis by Gloucester Rugby’s Community Department, Charlie Sharples made the first team at the tender age of 18 and scored his first senior try in a win over Bath. He went on to feature in the Junior World Cup for the England U20s before starting to score tries for fun for the first XV.
It’s been a hectic couple of years and he’s still only aged 21! Talking to him at the club’s training ground at Hartpury recently, his sheer enthusiasm for the game shines through and, surrounded by a number of his best mates, there is obviously no danger of him getting too big for his newly acquired adidas boots!
“Scoring the tries is great but I was just happy to feature so much last year and I’ve been involved pretty much every game this year which is exactly what I wanted. My goal at the start of the season was to establish myself as a first team regular and it’s going well at the minute. The tries are just a bonus.”
Establishing a regular spot on the wing is a challenge in the Gloucester squad this season. As well as Sharples, the likes of Jonny May, James Simpson-Daniel, Lesley Vainikolo and Tom Voyce all have powerful arguments for regular inclusion.
It’s a fact not lost upon the Hong Kong born flier.
“There’s competition and that’s the way it’s always been. We’ve always had good wingers and I’ve had to gradually work my way up the list. Hopefully, as long as I keep working hard and maintaining my level of performances, then I’ll stay in the mix.”
“But we can’t do our job without the centres like Eli and Tins giving us ball at the right time, putting us into space etc. The fly halves do a great job getting the back line moving and we can’t do anything, of course, without the pack winning quality ball!”
Five of his starts so far this season have been in the full back berth. Although he’s known primarily as a winger, he’s quick to stress that he’ll play wherever it best suits the team.
“I actually quite enjoy playing at full back. It’s not too much different to the wing in terms of the skill sets required but you tend to get your hands on the ball a bit more and more opportunities to counter attack.”
“And playing at 15 helps my appreciation of the game overall and improves my wing game as a result. I’d love to be as accomplished a back three player as Balsh (Iain Balshaw) was when he was here.”
There has been lots of talk about the youngsters coming through the ranks and making their mark at first team level and it’s obvious that they’re a really tight unit on and off the pitch.
“Yeah, we all live in the same block of flats so we see a fair bit of each other away from the rugby. We’ve all come through the Academy together and, although we’ve lost a few along the way, it’s great to see your mates alongside you in the first team.”
“We’ve played a lot of rugby together over the past few years and that’s what we love doing. It’s cheesy but when we’re all out there playing at Kingsholm, it’s like a dream come true.”
Part of the daily routine at a professional rugby club is the non stop banter and nicknames are part and parcel of it. Charlie has one of the more unusual – Mr Showbiz – where did that come from?
(Laughs). “That’s down to Jeremy Paul when he was here. We were doing a skills session and I ran through, didn’t pass to anyone but didn’t pass to anyone and he said something like ‘That’s not show friends, that’s show business.’ It got shortened and kind of stuck. It could be worse!”
Getting back to playing matters, a massive spell of games lies ahead for Gloucester and everyone at the club knows the next few weeks are huge.
“Yeah, we had a meeting the other day and Brush went through the fixtures and it’s intense. Equally, if we get good results out of the next five or six weeks, our season could be huge. We could be pushing for top four in the league and we have a semi final ahead of us as well.”
Talking of the final, Sharples was a replacement in the thrilling yet heartbreaking final against Northampton last year. He admits going one better would be great but there’s business to take care of first.
“Definitely. I was on the bench at Twickenham the year before as well. It was incredibly disappointing last year. We were in it from the first minute to the 80th but couldn’t quite do it.”
“To get back there would be great but we’ve got to turn up at home to Newport first. No-one’s taking anything for granted on that one but we haven’t even discussed it yet. We’ve got to get through these league matches first.”