FEW people know too much about England prospect Paul Hill but Jack Walker, the prop’s former colleague at Yorkshire Carnegie, is different.
Uncapped Hill, the 20-year-old Northampton Saints tight-head, was one of the surprise names in Eddie Jones’s first pick as national head coach this week, included in the 33-man elite training squad ahead of the Six Nations that start next month.
Hill only made his Premiership debut a matter of months ago but such has been his rapid progress that Jones believes the giant forward is ready for the challenge as England begin the quest to rid the painful memories of their disastrous World Cup.
Carnegie hooker Walker concurs and can offer more of an insight into the player who left Headingley last April, having emerged from the club’s academy alongside him.
“I’ve actually known Paul since I was 12,” he told The Yorkshire Post. “We came through school together at Prince Henry’s Grammar in Otley, the England age groups as well and Carnegie, of course.
“It was a massive loss for the club when he moved last year but, to be fair to him, he’s played outstandingly well this season for Northampton and 100 per cent deserves his spot in this squad.
“As a mate and ex-playing colleague, I’m really proud of him and fair play to him.
“I’m not surprised. He’s always been a freak of nature, being absolutely huge, and ever since he made the jump up to senior rugby he has held his own.
“Even though it’s come as a surprise to most people as he is still only 20, it hasn’t surprised me in the slightest.
“He offers loads around the park that other tight-heads don’t and, as he’s proved in the Premiership, he can hold his own in the scrum, too.”
Hill was born in Germany but his father is English and he was raised in Doncaster, starting out in Doncaster Knights’ junior club at Under-7s level before his later switch to Carnegie.
Walker – who is a year younger at 19 – packed down with him there, at school and then in the international junior ranks, eventually playing alongside Hill in the England Under-20s team that won the 2014 IRB Junior World Championship.
Hill debuted for Carnegie earlier the same year and also got his first taste of England’s senior squad when he and Walker were invited to train at St George’s Park with the first team by then head coach Stuart Lancaster.
Walker, who became Carnegie’s youngest captain in history when leading them last year at 18, recalled: “It was eye-opening at the time to go train with people who were our idols, the people we aspire to be.
“We both enjoyed it and talked about what a great experience it was.
“The reason we’d gone in then was both Dylan Hartley and Dan Cole were carrying slight knocks so we came in and trained as them. We did everything for the whole day and that helped Paul and me understand what we both need to try and replicate.”
Hill made 20 appearances for Carnegie, scoring two tries, before moving to Franklin’s Gardens.
Granted, he has made just three Premiership starts for Saints but caught the eye a week ago when illustrating his skills in the loose with a stunning 50m run at Leicester Tigers only to see his effort ruled out due to an earlier foul by colleague Tom Wood.
Hill’s England inclusion, along with fellow England Under-20s forward Maro Itoje, is a real fillip for the sport’s aspiring young talents, including Walker.
“It’s fantastic for him and, for me, it’s always good to see if we play well and can hold our own in men’s rugby that an opportunity to do this (represent England) is there,” he said.
“Personally, I’m just focusing on Carnegie and playing well for the rest of the season to see where it takes us.”
Carnegie are currently third in the Championship as they continue their pursuit of promotion back into the Premiership, something which would certainly aid Walker’s chances of following his erstwhile colleague into the senior England squad.
However, the Keighley-born No 2 has not played since the British & Irish Cup win against London Scottish on December 19.
“I had a knee op’ to get a bit of cartilage trimmed but I’m just starting to do bits of running again now and aren’t too far away,” he said.
“I’ve got an England Under-20s camp next week so will go there but hope to be back playing the following week.
“We’ll have to wait and see but I’ll be trying for that.
“Things are looking good with Carnegie and we’re on a bit of a roll now (four-game winning run). If we can keep that moving I’m sure we’ll be soon moving further up.”