English Rugby
Cole not forgetting his roots
Rob Wildman
August 12, 2010

It may have an unloved format but the Championship, English rugby's second tier competition, has one major success story to shout about in Dan Cole. On the eve of the league's second season, the Leicester Tigers prop has been looking back on his formative days as a young professional.

Cole is certain that his dramatic charge into the England squad last season would not have happened without him having first played at Bedford and Nottingham over the previous three seasons. Leicester loaned out the 23-year-old apprentice in an effort to give him valuable game time while he waited for his chance at Welford Road.

It is a system that the Rugby Football Union is looking to develop. Leicester have now become linked to Nottingham while their Premiership title rivals Saracens are joining forces to help Bedford. Gloucester have sent players to Moseley and Harlequins are looking to forge a partnership at Esher.

Cole's first prolonged opportunity eventually came last November when he benefited from injuries and international calls at Leicester to Italian tight-head Martin Castrogiovanni and Pumas regular Marcos Ayerza. He grabbed the Tigers shirt with both hands and the rest, as they say, is history. By the end of the June tour to Australia and New Zealand, he had won seven caps, decimated an Australian front-row and secured a place in Martin Johnson's Elite Player Squad for the autumn Tests.

He has fond memories of both Bedford and Nottingham. "I still look out for the results," he told ESPNscrum. "I have a good number of friends who play for them and I always want to know quickly how they have done on a Saturday.

"It was a massive experience to play at Bedford and Nottingham. It brought me regular competitive rugby and you played against a lot of very experienced players. Especially in the first season, as a 19-year-old at Bedford, I was on the end of plenty of lessons. It was hard rugby but very valuable."

He was helped by the coaching at Bedford of former England and Orrell prop Martin Hynes. "His enthusiasm rubbed off on you," he said. "Martin's a bit of a character and knew his stuff and you benefited from his experience."

Cole started last season flitting between Leicester and Nottingham. He could not break into the Tigers squad and had one match for the Championship club, against Cornish Pirates, as part of a further loan arrangement. He eventually got his break, helping Leicester beat the touring Springboks before a series of Premiership and Heineken Cup games brought him to the attention of the England coaches. Cole is now set to start a new season. "The first goal is to play well for Leicester. You can't think too far ahead," he said.

The Championship starts on Saturday, August 28 when Bristol, who missed out on promotion last season to the Premiership, take on Rotherham. Teams face a long season of some 31 games if they reach the two-legged play off final. It is a format that has attracted plenty of criticism from clubs but the RFU have insisted on retaining. The critics have gained a little consolation from Twickenham, with a new bonus points system following the opening 22-match regular season. The revision will give the top ranked teams a reward for success in the first six months of rugby.

© Scrum.com

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