- League convert proud to get “special” opportunity
- “If there is a bit of space in front of me I’ll try and exploit that” – Eastmond
While Kyle Eastmond is understandably excited by a first senior England start tomorrow, the 23 year old is equally humbled by the chance to continue his evolution as a rugby union player in an international environment.
The rugby league convert will start at inside centre against a Sudamerica XV representing the CONSUR nations in Montevideo, Uruguay, one of seven making their senior bows from the start in Stuart Lancaster’s side.
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The former St Helens starlet scored with his first touch after coming on at full back against the Barbarians and has played in a variety of back line positions for Bath Rugby, while when he was taking Super League by storm as an 18 year old, Eastmond often played at stand-off.
While his raw skills are evident, Eastmond admits he is still learning and is happy to play anywhere, so long as his game involvements are high and therefore he can influence the outcome.
“Just as long as my hands are on the ball, I feel like I’m making progress,” he explained. “It’s a learning process for me and for everyone – trying to work out what’s best for the team and also for me.
“So long as I can get my hands on the ball a lot and can help the team, that’s fine with me. I played on the wing at first [for Bath]and then have moved in to the centres, which can only be a good thing. I’m more of a ball in hand player, trying to create space, but if there is a bit of space in front of me I’ll try and exploit that.”
On choosing Eastmond after just 23 Aviva Premiership appearances, Lancaster said that with as such high quality ball player, the priority was to get him into a creative position – 10, 12 or 15 – and other selection conundrums meant inside centre was the best fit on this occasion.
Eastmond has been deep in conversation with Mike Catt at training but said the Attacking Skills Coach is not dictating how he should play the game.
Suggesting that England’s coaching team provides the framework for imaginative players to express themselves, he said: “It’s not a way that he wants me to play, it’s tips on the way the team works and where I can fit into it.
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“I suppose I need to carry on playing in the way that I’ve played for Bath because that’s the reason why I’m here. Catty and all the coaches have been talking about how I can get myself into the game.”
Eastmond cuts a relaxed figure around the England camp which allied to the way he took his first international try on debut – scooting past four flatfooted defenders with low centre of gravity acceleration – suggests he has what it takes to make it at this level.
And despite his tender years and rugby union inexperience, Eastmond has been playing in nerve-shredding St Helens matches since the age of 18 and a Super League Grand Final just a year later.
“Playing in big games against Wigan, Leeds and Warrington was awesome, it was a great feeling growing up to be training at the club and then eventually playing in their first team,” he added.
“It was an incredible experience playing in the Grand Final against Leeds in 2009, I think there must’ve been 75,000 people there so to play in front of a crowd like that was awesome. Unfortunately we lost but it was a great occasion and great experience for me.”