ENGLAND captain Dylan Hartley has tipped him as his player to watch during the Six Nations but young prop Paul Hill – who was running out with National Two North’s Otley just a couple of years ago – admits he was “lost for words” hearing he had even been selected.
The Doncaster-raised tighthead, still aged just 20, is set to complete a meteoric rise by hopefully appearing off the bench for his England debut against Scotland at Murrayfield today.
A product of Yorkshire Carnegie’s academy, Hill played 20 first-team games for the club after that spell on loan with neighbours Otley and such was his instant success that Premiership Northampton Saints snapped him up last May.
Yet the player’s adaption to top-flight rugby has been equally as swift, his skills – not just in the scrum but his athleticism, too –coming to the attention of Eddie Jones, the Australian who took over as Red Rose chief before Christmas and has subsequently thrown the rookie into this afternoon’s Six Nations opener.
Speaking to The Yorkshire Post, Hill conceded: “On the day I got that phone call I didn’t know what to expect really.
“It was quite a shock. I was over the moon and pretty lost for words, to be fair. I really didn’t know what to say.
“The call from Eddie wasn’t longer than two minutes. It was to the point. ‘You’re in the team.’ I just said ‘great’!
“Training’s really been good since and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed all of that side of things.
“Now I’m just looking forward to the game itself and hopefully getting in the mix and making that next step up.”
When he does, there will be a raft of rugby folk across the Broad Acres who will be immensely proud.
German-born Hill, who Northampton team-mate Hartley describes as “simple, honest hard-working guy, young for a tighthead but potential; could be huge”, started out at Doncaster Knights Under 7s.
Hill said: “I was born in Germany but that’s it; I was only there for a couple of weeks then I was over here living in Doncaster.
“At Donny, there was coaches like Mick Lowcock and Mark Oakley who really took me on.
“From there, I moved to Leeds when I was 16 and went to school at Otley.
“There was a great rugby culture there (Prince Henry’s Grammar) and – coming from South Yorkshire where rugby’s not as big as in Leeds – it was a good environment to bring on my rugby union. Then, going into the more professional set-up at Carnegie, there was Mark Luffman, Andy Rock and Jon Pendlebury who took me onto the next level again; I can’t say how much time and effort they put into helping my game. That was a massive stepping stone for me. I came in quite young for a prop playing Championship rugby and it did help me develop.
“It was a good platform for then going on to the Premiership and I Otley before that was a great experience. I loved it there, they were a great set of lads and I got just what I needed to get right for the Championship. I then, obviously, moved on to Saints and am really happy with how my first season has gone.
“Hopefully at some point Carnegie, or Donny, will be in the Premiership, too. It’d be great to get a Yorkshire team up there again.” First, though, comes the challenge of Scotland as England, following the debacle of last year’s World Cup exit at the group stages, look to start atoning under a new regime.
Having worked his way through the England age groups – Hill was part of the Under 20s side that won the IRB World Junior World Championship in 2014 – how will he now feel walking out at Murrayfield in front of a live television audience of millions? “I’ve never played in front of 80,000 people before so I really don’t know what to expect,” he admitted. “Coming from Carnegie where sometimes it’d be a few hundred, I’ve gone to Saints where it can be 20,000, but Saturday will be like nothing I can compare it to. You just have to go into your own processes and not worry about what’s there. I’ll take it all in but won’t panic.
“Scotland did well and improved in the World Cup but for me, I just have to prepare as much as I can to face them.
“I’ve never played rugby at this level before so it’ll be more interesting to see what the standard is like having now trained with some of the boys.”