Exclusive with Northampton Saints and England under 20 player Howard Packman
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Northampton Saints and England under 20 full-back Howard Packman speaks about his personal development and success during his start to his promising career.

Most youngsters’ dream of becoming a professional sportsman, they see their idols play on the television and they go to the stadium to watch them play. They all aspire to be the next superstar.

The only way of getting there though is through hard work, determination and belief, something that promising Northampton Saints and England under 20 rugby player Howard Packman has followed.

Just who is Howard Packman?

The speedy full back from Northampton has worked his way through the ranks at the Saints and has started to earn his way into the first team. He has been part of successful sides during his progress. He won the Junior World Championship with the England under 20 side and obviously part of a Northampton side that won both the Amlin Challenge Cup and the Aviva Premiership.

Such success is vitally important to the development of a player at such a young age. It gives him the knowledge of how to handle the big occasion, what to expect and how to deal with any situation that comes his way.

It will also help a young player mature a lot quicker, but it’s important that success doesn’t affect him. It’s important for any professional in any sport to understand what failure is like because it makes the success feel even better.

Speaking about how the success last year has helped him, Packman said; “It was good being a part of such a successful side last year, I think it helped my development as a young player massively and to actually contribute along the way was pretty cool. It was my first year with them last year and hopefully I can keep learning and keep contributing in a positive way”.

The promising youngster has certainly made an impression on both the coaches and the fans but recognises the fact there is still a long way to go in terms of his development. “I think my mental game has improved the most out of anything, having to play in big games quite frequently last season really helped me become more mature with how I play and prepare for games. I think my all round skills set has come on a lot too with players of such high quality pushing me and myself trying to become better than them”.

Packman made his debut against Gloucester in the LV Cup in 2013, and has since gone on to not only achieve success with the England under 18 and 20 side but has made more appearances in the Saints first team, starting in many cup games and was named on the replacement bench for their Premiership game against Saracens. The first time he had been named in a Premiership squad.

The full back has one noticeable trait. His speed. He is exceptionally quick, something that clearly helps him effect a game dramatically.

The 20-year-old’s speed is incredible and has certainly been noticed when he was called up to the England 7’s side this year. He has represented England from under 16 level all the way to the under 20 side, and with a call-up to the 7’s side he is without doubt showing what he is all about.

Top professionals are always looking to get better and analysing how they can do that, Packman is no different. Packman said; “This season I need to stay focused and motivated, it’s quite hard when you’re not being played and only get a couple of first team games due to a few injuries and internationals coming back, but I’m setting myself achievable targets and working hard. I think work rate is massive, working hard at everything will hopefully impress coaches and players and then I can get the most out my ability”.

Packman admitted he was “nervous” when he made his professional debut back in November 2013 against Gloucester but has since looked very comfortable when he has been given his chance.

He feels the influence of the experienced players has helped him remove any nervous feeling because he knows they’ll be able to help him out in games and give him advice when needed. “When someone like Jimmy Wilson who I’ve played with, is telling me what to do and where to go and telling me if he kicks a high ball that he’ll go and catch it, it just takes a lot pressure of your shoulders, so having them around is a big help”.

Going on to speak about his debut and playing with the experience players, he said; “It was good, obviously there were some of the older boys were giving me a lot of advice before the game, and my friends and family were all giving me advice. A lot of its to do with communication and positioning, especially with the back three, I’m with the likes of George North and Ken Pisi and they just chat to you all the time and tell you what to do so you take it all on board”.

Packman comes from a rugby family

The Northampton born full back isn’t the first to play professional rugby in his family. His father Frank Packman also played for Northampton Saints and England, and made 376 for the Saints between 1982 and 1996. Following in his father’s footsteps, Howard has continued to impress whoever he has played for and has ‘kept his feet on the ground’. Something no doubt, his father has ensured he does.

Packman senior’s experience has played a fundamental part in the youngsters’ development, something that doesn’t go unnoticed. “He’s been good obviously, he’s always giving me advice, he’s never put pressure on me but it’s good to have him around games, so he can tell me what I’ve done and what I’ve done not so well so it’s good to have him around”.

This sort of influence is certainly helping the youngster as he continues to make appearances for the first team, and he knows what he needs to do. “It’s obviously a big step up and a lot of things have happened, you got to stay grounded and take it as it comes”.

Despite not making an appearance in the Premiership, Packman is firmly focused on achieving that and will be certainly ready to step up when he is needed.

The focus isn’t just on the Saints though, the England side is something that he has played a crucial part in and will be looking to do the same this season. “This season my goals are to play in the premiership and also to do well with the 20’s, regain the JWC and to win the six nations. I’ve come quite close already to my first goal, being on the bench against Saracens but didn’t come on. After that it would be to play consistently for the first team & to hopefully make the Saxons squad in a couple of years’ time”. He explained.

Packman’s rise through the England ranks saw him called up to the sevens side for the Emirates Airline Glasgow 7’s tournament earlier this year and this was a massive learning curve for the player who 7’s head coach Simon Amor believes is a “super talent”.

Speaking about his experiences in this tournament, he said; “I really enjoyed my 7’s time, it was completely different to what I was used to. I just listened and tried to take in as much information and advice in the time I had with them to help my 7’s but also my 15’s game. The best part for me was the last game at Twickenham against Fiji in front of 50,000 people. It was surreal starting that game and also winning it, topped off a really good two months with them”.

His performances in the Glasgow tournament saw him included in the London Tournament as well. “I had a little bit of game time at Glasgow in May and then they asked me to come back for the London tournament,” Packman explained.

“There were 70,000 people through the day at Twickenham and I played against Fiji, made some nice breaks and scored a try. That was my highlight of the two weekends.

“A couple of lads in the Saints squad this week have had a couple of tournaments, but I’ve probably had the highest level tournaments so far.”

He has also appeared for the Saints in the Premiership sevens tournament adding more some more experience in the game.

His rise through the England age groups has seen him experience many different tournaments along the way and last season was incredibly special for the full back. “Last year was obviously incredible with them, but for this team this year we are hoping for the same but to win the Six Nations. We only lost to France last year who went on to win the grand slam, something I’d love to do with that team this year in what will be my last age group acting year”.

Packman is already a world champion

One of Packman’s biggest achievements came this year when he travelled to New Zealand with the England under 20 squad for the Junior World Championship.

They went on to win the tournament, beating South Africa 21-20 in a tense final at Eden Park, Auckland. The team beat Italy, Australia and Argentina in the group stage. Packman scored in the convincing semi-final win against Ireland which set up the final against the Springboks.

It took a while for it to sink in but the Saints man will be looking to replicate the success this year. The down to earth youngster explained the feeling of this victory; “It was surreal, it must have taken two weeks for me to actually realise how big it was to win it. It was such a tough month being so far from home having to play 5 games in just over two weeks. Hopefully we can win it again this year because I’d love to experience that feeling again!”

He does feel a bit more pressure when it comes to the national team though but he certainly relishes the opportunity when it comes and is always looking to leave a good impression on the coaches and fans.

Describing the difference between the Saints camp to the England one, he said; “Obviously we’re in camps, we’re training together and spending all day together, whereas at saints your at home after training and sometimes see a couple of boys out after training but with England there’s a lot more pressure just because you’re trying to make sure your performing all the time. Obviously you do with Saints but with England you’re trying to get into certain teams or squads for games and there’s a lot more pressure on that.”

There has been many highlights and some immensely proud moments in the player’s career so far and there will definitely be more to come, seeing as he is only 20 years old and has a bright future ahead. “I still look back at my first ever England game at U16 level, and the second game against France which was one of my most favourite games to play in ever”.

However, there is only one thing that stands out for the full back; “I can’t say anything else but winning the World Cup! It was also the first time that I’d been in an England team which had beaten the South Africans, they were the best team at that age group so was huge for us”.

An achievement like this one can only stand him in good stead for the future and with the performances he has put in so far means he will be in involved in more successful teams in the future.