- Mallinder talks revision, beating Wales and his rugby relationship with father Jim
- Young Northampton Saints fly half impressing with England U18 in Poland
It takes a certain degree of poise to slot a decisive kick in any game. But when wind is swirling, the match in question is an Anglo-Welsh international and the opportunity has come 50 metres from the opposition posts, a positive outcome requires prodigious composure.
With England Under 18 trailing 9-8 in Tuesday’s FIRA/AER European Championship semi-final, Harry Mallinder was presented with such a chance. Having come off the bench to replace London Irish fly half Theo Brophy Clews just after half time, the fate of John Fletcher’s charges was at his right boot.
In the torrential Polish rain, he held his nerve brilliantly to clinch a tight contest 11-9 – a fine strike actually had decent distance to spare.
Unsurprisingly for a young man who can clearly retain calm under duress, Mallinder is an extremely laid-back character. Still, he has no problem admitting there was some anxiety around.
“There were certainly mixed emotions before I stepped up for it,” he smiles. “I was very tense on the bench but when I came on I always knew there might be an opportunity to take a winning kick.
“Wales missed three just before that, so it built the pressure up even more and it felt like it might be the final opportunity in a way.
“Once the ball was on the tee I just tried to get my head down and focus on my kick, getting my foot though it. Thankfully, it went the right way.
“There was actually a strong breeze behind us coming from left to right. I’ve done a lot of work with [England kicking coach] Jon Callard in not focussing on that wind and making sure you manage a ‘true kick’.
“I gave myself a couple of metres inside the left-hand post and thankfully it all went to plan – it stayed inside that post and through the middle.”
Aside from that crucial three-pointer, Mallinder was part of a perseverant England performance. Despite atrocious conditions in Poznan, they maintained attacking shape and trusted their skills to pin Wales back in the final stages. Centre Charlie Thacker and full back Taylor Prell were prominent as victory was eked out. Ireland await in Saturday’s final and another triumph would seal an impressive title defence.
Portugal were brushed aside 62-5 last Thursday, Mallinder recording 17 points including one of 10 tries, and the Northampton Saints youngster hails how the squad has become “close-knit” with some “good banter flying around” constantly.
That said, while a spring tour of Eastern Europe might encourage plenty of beer-fuelled bonding for an amateur senior side, England U18 have had more academic demands. With RFU Education Officer Keith Gee present for encouragement and support, revision is a key part of the itinerary.
Studying for A-Levels in Politics, Geography and Economics at Rugby School, Mallinder is devoting a good deal of downtime to writing essays. Keen to combine a burgeoning rugby career with a university degree, there is a quiet eagerness to achieve top grades.
“It can be difficult balance because you are being pulled in both directions,” Mallinder explains. “At my school, the teachers expect a lot of you. Then again, they are lenient in some ways too – they really understand the pressures and commitments that come with rugby.
“It’s just been a case of time management. Hopefully I’m getting that right.”
At Saints, Mallinder is part of a prolific production line. Sam Olver and Will Hooley are just two Academy products that are growing into assured number 10s – the former is likely to feature at the Junior World Championship this summer, while the latter has already represented Northampton’s first team. The development pathway for a young half-back is clearly a sturdy one in the East Midlands.
It also happens that Mallinder’s father, Jim, is the boss at Franklin’s Gardens. You might think Harry had no choice but to pursue an oval ball, but early promise in cricket and football – he played for his primary school at Old Trafford – meant rugby only took over at 13.
Mirroring the likes of George Ford and Owen Farrell, there is a real maturity about Mallinder as he discusses his rugby relationship with his old man.
“He doesn’t treat me any different at the club, which is nice. He’ll let me know what I’m doing wrong. Very occasionally, he might let me know if I’ve done something right as well!
“Because that’s what I'm used to, I don’t know any different. Early on I got a bit of stick from senior lads, but it’s not a huge issue. I quite enjoy the banter anyway.
“When I was a bit younger, I was definitely less in control of my emotions. I’d tend to get riled by things I’d read on Twitter and on the internet and heard around school. Then you realise it’s his job and people are entitled to their opinion.
“Thankfully at the minute things aren’t going too badly at the moment. As long as Saints are winning, I’m happy and he’s happy.”
Such sentiment is remarkably insightful and measured, more so for someone a couple of months shy of their 18th birthday. It’s little wonder Mallinder had no problems with that penalty, really.