Nothing can take the smile off Jake Abbott’s face, not even the disappointment of missing out on the first European match of his career simply because of an administrative error.
The young Worcester flanker was due to make his Challenge Cup debut in last Saturday’s pool three opener against Petrarca Padova, a game that would have been only his second in a Warriors shirt.
But, having travelled out to Italy and been named in the starting XV alongside superstars like Chris Latham and Rico Gear, a late registration check revealed that the 20-year-old was not eligible and instead the place that should have been his went to Matt Cox. Abbott got on the pitch but only as a water-carrier.
In the end a 55-6 victory would have been the perfect follow-up to the day his childhood dreams were realised.
That came the previous Sunday when the openside made his debut in the EDF Energy Cup victory over London Irish. If anyone wondered how much that game would mean to him they were quickly enlightened.
Abbott was the personification of perpetual motion that day, smashing everything that moved and a few things that didn’t. It was only 10 minutes spent in the sin bin for a late hit on England scrum half Peter Richards and entirely understandable fatigue that prevented his tackle count from reaching the stratosphere.
After that match Mike Ruddock was full of compliments and described Abbott’s workrate as ‘excellent’. The director of rugby has promised him more first-team action.
That’s why oversights like last weekend’s are disappointing but not crushingly so.
Abbott bounced back by leading an academy side to a handsome victory over an Army Under 23 line-up on Monday night.
He scored the first of his team’s six tries with a classic on-the-shoulder support run and created the second when his miss-pass to Mike Penn gutted the visitors like a rotten fish.
Abbott is enjoying his rugby and it’s easy to see why.
“I have played here since I was six, right the way through mini and juniors,” he says. “I remember when there were pitches behind the new stand – I used to play there when it was just like a shed with a skittle alley.
“I have been with the club all my life, seen it develop, and it’s just fantastic to be a part of it. I love this club, my heart’s here. I need to make my mark and secure a contract for next season.”
Abbott’s sights have been raised by a season in National Two with Stourbridge. Then a teenager, he made as many appearances for the league team as he did the development side and won admiration from Neil Mitchell, Stour’s director of rugby, for his outstanding pace and athleticism. And of course the workrate.
Several of his peers have followed a similar path. Miles Benjamin was a sensation in the few games he played for Birmingham & Solihull as were James Collins and Joey Carlisle. Alex Grove, another youngster doing a fine impression of a seasoned first-teamer, almost guided Bees away from relegation despite playing out of position.
“Going out on loan really works, I benefited so much from regular rugby last season,” Abbott says.
But now his attention is focused on dislodging Collins as Pat Sanderson’s replacement. “I made my mark against London Irish, I’ve been told I’ll get another chance and when I do I’ll take it,” he says. “Mike Ruddock is so keen on giving us young lads an opportunity I’m in the perfect environment to do just that.”
Playing and training alongside Latham and Sam Tuitupou has become a regular thing for Abbott, indeed he’s even starting to attract some attention himself.
“I used to ball-boy and asked all the time for players’ autographs. I’ve been asked for mine a few times, I’ve had my signature sorted since I was 13 but it’s absolutely rubbish, it needs a bit of work. Anyway, most people are still a bit unsure who I am.”
All the administrative errors in the world won’t stop that from changing.