|Squad||England Under 18|
Presiding over a champion team that won 22 of the past 25 international matches merely scratches the surface of John Fletcher’s success. His perennial work is with the next generation of the game’s top level players and he knows that the real meaning of winning in the long term involves guiding as many of his charges as possible towards full caps.
Hexham born, John saw his burgeoning career and prospective high level career as a Northampton Saints and England A centre terminated by a broken leg when he was 22. He said: “I decided then that I was going to become a coach,” even though he battled on and played at club level until the year 2000.
Turn the clock forward from then and he has been through the mill, built the coaching phases and graduated to his RFU National Academy role and England U18 head coach in April 2008 after running Newcastle Falcons’ highly successful academy. He helped to bring through players with the calibre of Toby Flood, Mathew Tait and Geoff Parling and became the club’s director of rugby as successor to Rob Andrew in 2006.
His own playing days took in Tynedale and Newcastle Gosforth together with the North U18 and seniors in an all-too-brief career that began when he was 14 at Allendale Middle School. “Before that I had always played football. My grandfather and uncle were very good footballers in local leagues,” he continued. “I also had trials for Sunderland and Newcastle United.”
John Clark at Tynedale and Steve Black at Newcastle mentored his rugby development and his educational pathway took in Haydon Bridge First School and High School. His initial coaching involvement was with Northumberland age group sides from U15 to U20 and seniors with a knowledge gleaned from captaining Tynedale at all levels. He became the Northumberland Development Officer in 1996.
Ask about his hobbies and he answers in multiples: “Golf, cricket, camping, walking and hanging out with my three young children, all boys. Everyone who played at Tynedale are the contemporaries that I admire most. They played hard on and off the pitch, though Frank Bunce (the 59-times capped All Blacks and Samoa centre from 1991-97) was my favourite to watch.
“My memorable matches have been the ones when the England U18 squad has played to its potential and all games that we won at Falcons during my time there.” In a three-year spell with England as John observed: “We played everyone at U18 level except New Zealand and beat them all.” What a record that was… and is.