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Unseen: The Significance of Richard Hill for England's Upcoming Generation | Written by Gerard Meagher
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Unseen: The Significance of Richard Hill for England’s Upcoming Generation | Written by Gerard Meagher

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During his time as a player, Richard Hill, a flanker who helped his team win the World Cup, maintained a modest presence. In his current position as England’s team manager and talent scout, he continues to stay out of the spotlight, serving as a key member of Steve Borthwick’s team.

Chandler Cunningham-South, the latest addition to England’s back-row, recently discovered that the person who had been giving him tips for the past few years, and who he thought “sounded like he knew what he was talking about”, had extensive experience in the sport. Hill, who is 50 years old, revealed to Chandler about his participation in the World Cup only three months ago. Chandler was not bothered about Hill’s past achievements and instead wanted to know why he wasn’t informed earlier. Hill explained that it was irrelevant to their current goals and that their focus should be on Chandler’s progress, not his own.

This story is a fitting example of the person known as the “Silent Assassin” during their time as a player. His French rival, Serge Betsen, described him as someone who emerged “from the shadows, from the darkness”. This anecdote perfectly represents Hill’s role in the England team. Hill does not seek attention and has rarely given interviews to the media in the seven years he has been the team manager.

In 2014, Hill joined the Rugby Football Union to oversee the development of pathways and mentor back-row players. He was chosen as team manager by Eddie Jones in 2016, and when Borthwick became head coach a year ago, Hill’s responsibilities expanded. The current coach relies on him for identifying and developing talent, and he also plays a crucial role in strengthening relationships between clubs and the national team.

His influence is only too evident when casting an eye over England’s matchday squad in last weekend’s victory over Italy. One of the first things Jones did as head coach was task Hill with finding some openside flankers in the days when England had an abundance of “six-and-a-halfs” but not enough sevens. Not long later, Hill brought Sam Underhill – at the time playing for the Ospreys – to Jones’s attention while Tom Curry, currently sidelined with a debilitating hip injury, regularly speaks of the influence Hill has had on his career.

England’s Chandler Cunningham-South makes progress in Rome. View image in fullscreen

Ethan Roots recently made his first appearance in Rome. He caught the attention of Borthwick through Hill, who had been observing him during Premiership Rugby Cup matches for Exeter while England was at the World Cup in 2019. Borthwick praises Hill’s ability to recognize talent, stating that he always takes his recommendations seriously when it comes to tracking potential back-row players.

Next, we have Cunningham-South, who was only 20 years and eight months old when Hill won the World Cup. Despite his young age, he made a great impact when he came off the bench in the game against Italy. Hill praises his power and aggression, as well as his physical abilities that are crucial for breaking tackles and advancing the team’s position on the field. In the recent game against Italy, he demonstrated his ability to make cover tackles and showed his willingness to put his shoulder into an opponent’s ribs if necessary. Hill admires this quality and finds it appealing.

How does it feel to watch the players he has developed play for the senior team? Hill expresses, “I am definitely pleased with the outcome.” He acknowledges the hard work put in by the management to improve players and emphasizes the importance of seeing them perform and the team succeed. However, this success should not be taken for granted and must be maintained in future games.

Based on my personal experience, once you believe that you have reached your full potential or have achieved success in a particular environment, you are at risk of being left behind. The game is constantly evolving and people are always trying to find ways to outsmart the system. It is not unusual for a player to stand out and then suddenly face challenges as the opposing team becomes aware of their strengths. In these situations, it is important to adapt and reinvent yourself in order to continue succeeding.

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Richard Hill in action for England during his playing days.

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“Consider Richie McCaw as an example. Despite people claiming to understand his playing style, one might assume he would be easy to shut down. However, while there were times when he may have been less active, he always found a new approach to contribute. This is the challenge we must instill in every player who joins our system.”

Hill is putting his words into action as he observes England’s newest group of U20 players in their win against Italy last Friday. Henry Pollock, a back-rower from Northampton, stood out with a hat-trick and is a player worth monitoring. Hill will continue to watch the team as they face Wales this weekend.

After Borthwick joined, Hill’s responsibilities have expanded and he is now involved in overseeing all Premiership games. He mentioned that he is not focusing on any particular positions, but rather taking a more comprehensive approach. However, he does acknowledge that tighthead and inside-centre are areas where England lacks depth and will be on his list of priorities. He also addressed the issue of England’s relative lack of power, especially with the absence of the Vunipola brothers and the declining performance of 32-year-old Manu Tuilagi.

“We have the club system that comes into our international teams and clearly, I think what we’re going to try and do is develop as many of the players as possible,” adds Hill. “The nature of the sport is they’re not always going to be fit so that the biggest spread of players we have the bigger group that we can get.

Improving their performance during gameplay leads to more effective training, enabling them to push themselves further. As a result, securing a spot on a team becomes more difficult and the level of competition increases. This ultimately results in the recruitment of stronger players. While I have considered suggesting a certain back-row player to switch to a centre position, my suggestion was overwhelmingly outvoted. These types of discussions occur frequently within our team.

Source: theguardian.com