Jack Nowell’s ascent from Exeter Chiefs startup to British and Irish Lion has lifted many a spirit in the South of England in the four years since making his Test debut in the 2014 Six Nations.
In addition to the relentless work ethic and lethal running game displayed by the 27-times-capped winger, Nowell has proven his value as a versatile utility back at both international and club level.
Often found jinking his way past defenders as Devon’s favourite wing, Nowell has also proved his pedigree at outside centre for the 2017 Premiership Champions, whilst also racking up one start at fullback for the British and Irish Lions' mid-week team. A game that secured his place on the bench for the tour’s second and third Tests against the All Blacks.
Former Exeter winger turned coach, Matt Jess, believes that his former teammate could perform in any position for England, going on to describe Nowell as a player he would build a team around.
"I remember playing an A-League game with him when he started at fullback and on his first touch of the ball he did this awesome left foot step and made a break. From that moment I thought to myself, 'this guy is going to be starting Premiership games in a couple of years time, and could be one for England.'
"I know people will say 'oh you're always going to say that'. But when you see the quality he has on the ball, he wasn't as big as he is at the time, one second he's caught the ball and the next minute he's got the ball against Saracens, a decent A-League side, he's put in a left foot step and made a 50-metre break.
"He's one of these guys that just works hard for it. He's had to work very hard for it. To see him come up through the Academy system to, firstly, become a starter, then an England international, then a British and Irish Lions is just amazing. To be part of that as well, it's been great for me personally.”
Jess also addressed criticism of Nowell’s lack of top-end speed when compared other top international wingers, believing that Nowell’s skills and worth ethic outweigh the extra yards of pace displayed by New Zealand’s Reiko Ioane or England teammate’s Jonny May and Anthony Watson.
"He wont mind me saying this, but he's not the quickest winger in the world, and he knows that.” Jess explained. “But it just shows, you don't have to be the quickest in the world. He's got skill levels, he's got rugby brain about him to make a game of rugby special."
"If someone turned around to me and asked 'which player did you always know would beat the first tackler?' a lot of people would immediately think of Jonah Lomu, but actually when you think within the Premiership, the man to beat the first player no matter who it is, it's Nowellsy.
"And this is why he's so important in terms of giving him the ball. You could put him into forwards pods, you give him the ball and he'll make that break, and that's why I think he's so important to the team.”
Jess continued: “If I was to have my coaching hat on I would start looking at actually, how do I build a squad around him, in terms of who would I want outside of him, who would I want playing alongside him and who's going to benefit the most from having him in the team.
“Imagine playing him at thirteen with two of the quickest wingers, he's going to create the space to put through someone like Jonny May. It's the same with putting him at fullback.
“His work rate, attack and defence are phenomenal, he's good in the air and very versatile as well. Exeter tried him at thirteen, fullback and obviously down the wing. I think if you put Nowellsy in any position, you know you'll get your money’s worth from him. He is a world-class rugby player."
"If I was going to encapsulate Nowell in one phrase, I'd say he's a fun-loving guy but also an absolute professional. With that sort of attitude, when you can balance it like he does, you're getting the full package. His performances on the pitch speak for themselves.”
LISTEN: Matt Jess on his transition from player to self-employed coach: bit.ly/2RNYxML
MSJ coaching: www.msjcoaching.co.uk
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