Elliot Daly’s school rugby coach believes a first England appearance for the Croydon-born centre tomorrow will be the start of a glittering international career.
Daly is in the match-day squad of 23 for the first time against Ireland, having been overlooked for selection against Scotland and Italy, and is expected to make his debut off the bench.
The 23-year-old is the latest protégé of Whitgift School’s talented rugby academy – where Danny Cipriani was also a student – and his former director of rugby Chris Wilkins says he always envisaged him reaching the top.
“He’s a winner and wants to win games,” he said.
“He’s very competitive and has a very good temperament which is what you need to play sport at a high level.
“He clearly had a lot of talent but he’s also got the right attitude and a great work ethic.
“I think that enabled him to keep improving and pushing on during his time at school and since he’s left, and, hopefully, he can carry on doing so over the next few years as well.”
Daly was part of Whitgift’s Daily Mail Cup winning teams in 2010 and 2011 along with fellow England international Marland Yarde and Olympic discus thrower Lawrence Okoye – now an NFL player in America.
But Wilkins says that although Yarde and Daly were clearly very talented, the school’s success was very much a down to a team effort.
“Everyone tries to identify stars from this year but they had a real good team ethic in the pack,” he added.
“Marland is very driven and competitive and he’s someone who can just beat people and score tries which is very similar to Elliot.
“Elliot’s got his kicking game as well which is proving to be very successful at long range, but they’re two quality players who did really well for us and who bought into the team ethic, which was good to see.”
With Jonathan Joseph and Owen Farrell starting ahead of him in England’s midfield, and Manu Tuilagi on the verge of returning to the team, there is an abundance of centre options for coach Eddie Jones to choose from.
But even though Joseph scored a hat-trick of tries against Italy last time out, Daly’s former coach believes his ex-pupil should usurp him.
“I would pick him at 13,” he explained.
“He’s competing with Jonathon Joseph but for me he’s got more of an all-round game and I think it’s about performance and taking his chance when he gets it.
“I think his strengths are out wide and his instinctive play in the way he uses the wings. Another of his strengths is his elusiveness, but definitely his kicking is a huge asset.
“I don’t think I need to give Eddie Jones any advice, he just needs to not overcomplicate it, give him the ball and let him play.
“That instinctive part of his play is key.”