Sporting Question: Sale star Andy Hughes relishing rise to top
“I haven’t signed it yet, but I’ve been offered it,” Andy Hughes calmly explains, reflecting about his ongoing contract negotiations with Sale RFC, “I’m just waiting for it to come in the post.”
For most, the tentative wait to receive the papers that confirm your future as a professional athlete over the next two years would be an unnerving proposition, not for Hughes, though.
The last 12 months have been a whirlwind for the 17-year-old: brought into the England Under-18 fold, progressing in Sale’s academy and studying for his A Levels were all masterminded in his considerate approach. The thoughtful and easygoing characteristics that have helped him achieve this may hide his burning desire to succeed to a mere onlooker, but it is his boyish enthusiasm for the game he loves that is most endearing and evident.
“You look around the stadium and see all the thousands of faces of the people who have come here to watch you play and, ugh, it’s quite hard to describe just how great that makes you feel,” he says. “But when you are playing the game, the buzz and the atmosphere you get, it’s fantastic. Playing in that sort of atmosphere, with everyone shouting, that I would very much like to get used to.”
At a time when players appear so distant it is refreshing to encounter someone just embarking on their career in sport with such passion and an understanding of the fans.
“Everyone’s there to support you,” he says emphatically. “You’re not just there for your teammates but you’re also playing for the people, they’re the ones who have come to watch you. It’s a responsibility to play well for your team and the crowd. Without the crowd there it’s very different, going back to playing cup matches on Sunday compared to what you’ve been doing the last few days.”
Alongside his appreciation for the followers of rugby, Hughes also ranks the support from family and coaches, and their ever-dependable encouragement, as a vital element of his success. This came to the fore when making only his second England U18s appearance against France in last month’s European Championship final.
“That was unforgettable,” he says, recalling a close fought game that ended 27-22 and saw England defend their title in front of 16,000 fans at the Stade de Alpes in Grenoble. “A very proud moment for me and my family, who were there to see me sing the national anthem in such a great stadium. It’s something I’ll never forget.
“When I was playing, I was thinking: ‘I want to make my family proud for everything they’ve done for me so far’. All the support, all the long journeys, the nightmares, the cup finals, they all add up to the big moment and it was really nice to give something back.
“I think there’s a great support, not just from family, but the coaching. The way we get treated, the lengths they go out of their way for you, it’s a very nice feeling. But I just think as if the players want to give something back to those who have done so much for them.”