- Loughborough captain handed job of leading England Students
- Gloucestershire second row Will Warden swapped round ball for oval at 16
Photo: RFU Archive
Seven years after taking up rugby, Loughborough University and Gloucestershire second row Will Warden will captain England Students in their opening international of the season against France Universities at the Athletic Ground, Richmond, on Friday, February 25 (kick-off 7.30pm).
The 6ft 5ins, 17st 2lbs Warden was born in Clevedon and brought up in the Stroud and Stonehouse area where he went to school at Marling Grammar.
He was a football goalkeeper until he was 16 and joined his mates playing at Stroud and Old Patesians rugby clubs, but since enjoying a gap-year stint playing for the Napier Pirates in New Zealand he has never looked back.
"During my gap year abroad I had three months in New Zealand where my physicality and understanding of the game of rugby really developed," said the 23-year-old Warden, who is studying an MSc in sport management at Loughborough having done an undergraduate course in physics and management.
"I fell in love with the sport out there, and although I tried for a while to play football and rugby, sometimes on the same day, I am glad I've stuck to one choice since university."
Warden has played for Gloucestershire U20 and, after winning two caps for England Students against Irish Colleges and France Universities last season, he will lead the side out for the rematch with the French at the Richmond Athletic Ground near Twickenham on Friday night.
We know we could have beaten France last year - Warden
"We know we could have beaten France last year," Warden said of the 35-22 defeat in Riom.
"We were in touching distance and pushing for a try when they scored and put a gloss on the scoreline.
"They are tough opponents but I really think we can take the game to them on Friday. We are meeting up for four days of preparation at Staines RFC then we will be at Richmond during the week which will give enable us to get to know the place before the match.
"We also had a squad training day the Sunday before last, at Uppingham School, when we came on a lot. The centres quickly started playing off each other, the front row were working together well and there were plenty of other good signs."
Warden has been captaining the Loughborough team who stand third in National League Two North behind Fylde and Westoe.
One of his biggest influences was Napier Pirates team-mate Clint Newland, a prop who has since played for the Highlanders and New Zealand Maori. Warden also played alongside future Crusaders and All Black wing Israel Dagg.
Giving the players extra responsibility
Paul Westgate, the England Students head coach, said: "As a person and as a character, Will embodies what England Students stand for. He is competitive and a leader and he wouldn't ask anyone to do something he wouldn't do himself.
"Will played very well off the bench against Irish Colleges last year then started for us against the French. He has captained Loughborough and is very well respected by his team-mates.
"Loughbrough is a centre of excellence for student rugby with a good rugby programme.
"Will has also done his Level One coaching badge, so I have had contact with him then too in my role as a coach educator.
"The England Students coaches' philosophy is to put a framework together and allow the players to take responsibility for what happens on the field."
Tickets for Friday's match are £10 adults, £5 students and free to the U16, available on the gate or by calling Richmond FC on 020 8940 0397.
England Students squad to face France Universities
Backs: Fred Burdon (Cambridge, centre), Alex Cheesman (Oxford, centre), Callum Grant (Reading, scrum half), Louis Messer (UWIC, full back), Sam Miller (Bath, wing), Tom Mitchell (VC) (Bristol, centre), Chris Reakes (Exeter, fly half), Paul Roberts (Bath, fly half), Ed Styles (Loughborough, wing / full back), Russell Weir (Loughborough, scrum half)
Forwards: Adam Bellamy (Bristol, hooker), Richard Boyle (Northumbria, second row), Richard de Carpentier (UWIC, No.8), Samuel Lockwood (Leeds Met, prop), Mike Macfarlane (Loughborough, No.8), Mohammed Mustafa (Liverpool, prop), Camilo Parilli-Ocampo (Loughborough, prop), Tom Sargeant (Exeter, flanker), Matt Smith (UWIC, second row), Alex Waddingham (Loughborough, flanker), Will Warden (C) (Loughborough, second row), Jack Yeandle (UWIC, hooker)