Tom O’Flaherty from Lambeth has an opportunity to help Exeter Chiefs win their first Heineken Champions Cup this Saturday at Aston Gate.
The winger, 26, had carved an unconventional route to the pinnacle of European club rugby prior to signing for the Devonshire side in 2017.
He was a highly rated scrum-half at schoolboy level, before representing Blackheath, Cardiff University, Cardiff RFC, Montpellier Academy, Bridgend and Ospreys.
O’Flaherty said: “I’m happy I’ve taken an unconventional route because I’ve gotten to experience more than just rugby.
“I think new experiences and different environments is good for life generally and playing in different positions has definitely helped me develop as a rugby player.”
O’Flaherty played at scrum-half in a Dulwich College side featuring Bath and Saracens props Beno Obano and Josh Ibuanopke.
However, he changed position at Cardiff RFC after a series of speed and conditioning tests which seemed to suggest his future may lie out wide.
He said: “I did quite well over 40 meters and the jump tests so one of my coaches decided to play me on the wing and it worked out quite well.”
He never looked back, scoring four tries in four games for Cardiff RFC towards the end of 2013, leading to a move to Bridgend.
His stock continued to rise, scoring 18 times in 25 appearances in a 2014-15 season that concluded with a match winning score in the SWALEC Cup Final at the Principality Stadium.
O’Flaherty had lifted trophies at Twickenham and The Principality before the age of 22 but was yet to have a clear path into the professional game.
After a year-long university placement in France where he represented Montpellier’s academy side, he was signed by Ospreys.
He explained: “That’s when I realised that it might be a possibility.
“I never actually thought about rugby being a long term career at school or university, I just took things step by step.”
After a brief but successful stint in south Wales he signed for Exeter Chiefs, being labelled as a player with huge potential by Director of Rugby Rob Baxter.
The south Londoner had to be patient, but quickly found his feet in an Exeter back three that now features England international Jack Nowell, British and Irish Lions Stuart Hogg and Alex Cuthbert as well as the highly rated Olly Woodburn.
Hogg joined this summer and O’Flaherty feels he’s added significant fire power to the side.
He joked: “I just let him do his thing and run off him, he’s an incredible attacking threat.
“It’s good to learn from all of them because they’re top quality world class wingers.”
The development of O’Flaherty and the addition of Hogg has helped push Exeter to new heights this season as they could win their first European Cup and second Aviva Premiership over the next fortnight.
Despite the historical significance for the club, O’Flaherty is confident Exeter have the fitness to push them over the line against Racing 92 in Bristol.
He said: “We pride ourselves on our fitness and we know we’ll have to dig in and work hard for the full eighty minutes.
“Ultimately it’s the back three’s job to defuse bombs so covering the space will be important.
“Once we’ve been told what to do it’s just a case of doing it, lockdown can be pretty boring and lonely but it’ll pay off if we get these two trophies.”
O’Flaherty also stressed how the pandemic had limited his ability to return to Lambeth to see friends and family.
He said: “I can’t really get back at the moment, usually I’d go once a month.
“I enjoy the good vibes and seeing my mates.”
The Heineken Champions Cup Final between Exeter Chiefs and Racing 92 kicks off at 4.45PM on Saturday, whilst the Aviva Premiership Final kicks off at 6.00PM on Saturday 24 October.
Featured image credit: Exeter Rugby Club/JMP