- Braley and Tompkins look back at AASE finals gone by
- I remember feeling incredibly nervous on the day – Tompkins
Photo: Leo Wilkinson
England Under 20s pair Callum Braley and Nick Tompkins will both be gunning for a spot in Nick Walshe’s IRB Junior World Championship squad in New Zealand this summer, but it wasn’t too long ago that both were competing for a title closer to home.
Both have recent experience of the AASE final – Braley won it in 2011 and 2012 with Hartpury, while Tompkins fell at the final hurdle last season as his Oaklands College side lost 20-10 to, ironically, Hartpury.
As Tompkins reflects on a classic case of ‘what could have been’, the emotions are still raw 12-months on, he says: “I remember feeling incredibly nervous on the day, and unfortunately, it will be one of those things that I will look back on, no matter how far I go and think ‘what if?’
“We were such a close team having been together for two years, and it was such a shame to lose at the final hurdle like that.
“I actually think we deserved to win it, I thought we had the firepower, but fair play to them they probably just had a little more depth than we did.”
Oaklands had led the game with ten minutes remaining only to fall to a late Jonny Hill try, the same Jonny Hill that is now an Under 20s teammate for Tompkins.
A mainstay in the England midfield – Tompkins played every minute of the U20 Six Nations – he can still draw plenty of positives from the experience.
Photo: Leo Wilkinson
“The standard of that final was incredible. It was probably tougher in terms of pace and skill levels than some of the A league games I’ve played in; everyone was just absolutely exhausted at the end.
“The two years I spent at Oaklands, with all the help and advice I received there, has definitely shaped me into the player I am now.”
Braley on the other hand is proudly part of a generation of Hartpury players who never lost a game in their time spent at the Gloucestershire college.
Such success demanded high standards, but that pressure to succeed helped drive players on according to England U20 captain Braley.
He said: “The two years I was at Hartpury we were unbeaten, which meant there were high expectation levels to win all the time. That brought a pressure, but it was a pressure we enjoyed.
Great learning curve – Braley
“Playing in the AASE league was a great learning curve as you were playing at the highest possible level week in week out, which is what you want as a player.
“It also helped to develop me as a person mixing my studies with rugby, I definitely formed some life long bonds with people."
On his final match that saw Hartpury beat Henley College at Twickenham, everything was a bit of a blur for Braley, he added:” “I can’t actually remember too much from the final two years ago, all I can remember was that it was a wicked day playing at Twickenham.
“Henley were a tough side, but we played very well on the day, which was great after all the hard work we had put in throughout the season. To be fair, we had a pretty good side that year too.”
Watch this season's AASE finals live on RFU.com/AASElive on April 2, 2014.