WITH 18 months to go until a home World Cup and neither flank nailed down there has rarely been a better time to be an English winger – a point not lost on former Dursley youth player Charlie Sharples, writes Chris Bailey.
The 24-year-old returned to Aviva Premiership action last weekend in Gloucester’s defeat at Sale Sharks after a spell on duty with the England Saxons.
Sharples is no stranger to the Red Rose fold or success on home soil having helped the Saxons claim the Churchill Cup in 2011 at Sixways, while he earned his first Test cap the same year.
Yet competition for a place on Stuart Lancaster’s flanks is growing in intensity with Exeter Chiefs flyer Jack Nowell and Gloucester team-mate Jonny May handed the honour for the first two Six Nations games against France and Scotland.
A return to form for Sharples towards the end of last year saw him called up as a late replacement for the Saxons side to face Ireland at Kingsholm last month.
And as Lancaster continues to run the rule over his options, Sharples admits performing in the Aviva Premiership is the best way for him to state his case.
“I enjoyed it very much. It has been a few years since I have been involved with the Saxons and I’ve got some good memories from back in 2011 and the Churchill Cup,” he said.
“It was a nice surprise to get the call and it was good to join up for a couple of weeks and be in that environment.
“It’s a really competitive position at the moment, there are guys who have played for a while and there are guys coming through who have really put their hands up as well.
“You have to be at the top of your game to be getting a call-up so for me I just have to focus on Gloucester and putting the performances in there.”
Sharples was not the only Gloucester player to spend time in the international arena over the last few weeks with Freddie Burns, Elliott Stooke and Dan Robson joining him on Saxons duty.
Meanwhile, England lined up in their first two Six Nations games with Gloucester centre Billy Twelvetrees and May in the starting XV, while No 8 Ben Morgan came off the bench.
And while Gloucester sit ninth in the Aviva Premiership table at present, Sharples admits Lancaster’s faith in the Cherry and White contingent shows they’re not far from getting it right.
“We were fortunate enough that myself and Jonny and Billy and the rest of us have all managed to get into that mix,” added Sharples.
“It goes to show that when we click there’s a lot of talent in our side.”
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