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Evening Standard
Evening Standard
Nick Purewal

Henry Arundell exclusive: I don't regret choosing France over England return... it's the best learning curve

Henry Arundell reels off Racing 92’s superstars, decisively explaining why he chose a higher education in rugby over a quick fix with England.

The former London Irish wing catalogues six of the biggest names in recent rugby times – but they are all coaches, not team-mates.

For starters, England star Arundell likens his Racing boss Stuart Lancaster to legendary New England Patriots chief Bill Belichick.

Then Arundell runs the rule over Racing’s assistants, and from ex-All Blacks wing Joe Rokocoko, via Dimitri Szarzewski, Bernard Le Roux and Yannick Nyanga, he ends with Frederic Michalak.

Arundell plans to return to England in 2026 – on his Parisian adventure he aims to mix his English roots with a pinch of French flair and a touch of Fijian magic.

Listen to Henry Arundell on the latest Evening Standard Rugby Podcast

The 21-year-old already boasts 10 England caps, a third-place World Cup finish and the chance at a generational Test career but considers himself anything besides the complete player.

Arundell cannot represent England while overseas, and spurned a chance to join Bath for next season – but did so with Red Rose boss Steve Borthwick’s understanding.

Instead, the try-scoring sensation wants to capitalise on a French finishing school boasting as much stardust as technical detail.

“Those five young assistant coaches, they’ve basically completed rugby,” Arundell tells Standard Sport.

“Fred’s got six European titles, Yannick’s got three, Dimitri’s got one and multiple Top 14s.

“With Yannick it’s breakdown, with Bernie it’s tackle, with Fred it’s decision-making and trying to get a bit of French flair.

“But then with Joe it’s his intelligence that I can admit I underestimated.

“Watching his game style you think, ‘wow, what an incredible athlete and a great ball-player’, but he has incredible rugby intelligence.

Henry Arundell has lavished praise upon ex-England boss Stuart Lancaster, now in charge at Racing 92 in Paris (AFP via Getty Images)

“You can go through games, training, clips, review other players and just chat about how you might defend them, how you might attack another team or identify their weaknesses.

“Joe’s so good at all of that, but then he’s also relaxed and wants boys playing with freedom.

“He brings that Fijian element where those guys, they can tear up in the Top 14 just like they were playing back at home with their friends.

“Then with Fred, he’s France’s highest-ever points scorer, he played at the 2003 World Cup and then in 2015.

“But even he, early on, struggled and got things wrong. Listening to him and learning from those experiences is invaluable.

“Joe was at the 2003 World Cup as well, then won the Top 14 in 2016. Their playing experiences are recent, which allows them to approach things from a player’s view.”

Former schoolteacher Lancaster has rebuilt his coaching career from England’s worst-ever World Cup performance in 2015 through a dynasty stint with Leinster and now onto Racing in Paris.

Arundell jumped at the chance to link up with the ex-England boss in France after London Irish slipped into administration last season.

He’s a mastermind, a complete mastermind

Henry Arundell on Stuart Lancaster

Now relishing the extended time working with Lancaster, Arundell looks straight to eight-time Super Bowl winner Belichick for a shorthand comparison.

“He’s a mastermind, a complete mastermind; there’s two coaches I’ve come across that I get amazed by in terms of work ethic, and that’s Stuart and Steve Borthwick,” says Arundell.

“It’s incredible how much rugby they watch and how much effort they put in to coach the player.

“The way Stuart wants to bring up every player regardless of background as well as maintain the standards of a senior player, that’s what’s so good. And that’s where the comparison with Bill Belichick comes in.

“He’s definitely similar in that he doesn’t care how many caps you’ve got, what you’ve won, whether you’ve won two World Cups as captain or you’re in your first year of professional rugby, there are standards that need to be met.

“If you’re not good enough you won’t play, and if you’re good enough you’ll get an opportunity. And if you get an opportunity, you have to take it.”

Arundell has been a scorer of great tries for several years and is well on the way to becoming a great try scorer too, but remains determined to add as many strings to his bow as possible.

“It would be easy to come from the World Cup and think that you’re ready, but at first there was a bit of a shock in terms of the sheer competition in the squad,” he says.

“Training is like a match, because you can be up against Francis Saili and Juan Imhoff, just as two examples, if one or the other is not starting for some reason.

“I think I would have been one of the most delusional individuals on the planet if I thought I’d cracked it just by playing at the World Cup or in the Six Nations.

“Those memories are incredible and I am so grateful for them, but there’s no way I could ever be satisfied with that.

“If you’re going to learn it anywhere, it’s in the Top 14, with the quality of opposition every week, against the best internationals in the world.

“So there’s definitely no regret in my decision to be here at all. As much as I’d love to keep playing for England, I know I made the decision I thought was right.

Arundell paused his burgeoning England career to continue his rugby development in France (PA)

“I know that I could go back to England in 2026 and not be selected again. But if that happens I can live with that, rather than go home and regret it because maybe I felt scared to come back and take a risk.

“If I were to end up failing because I was too scared to take a risk, that would eat away at me more.”

England players tend to head to France at the tailend of their careers, for one big new experience before time runs out.

Arundell has bucked that trend, but to tackle a learning curve that England boss Borthwick understands.

“When I told Steve I was staying, beyond the private elements, I explained it as I have now,” says Arundell.

“It’s about how and what I can learn, and from whom. And he was very understanding of that. He completely understood it, albeit he wanted me to come back. But this is very much a development period for me.”

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