Suffolk-born star prepares for final

AT the age of 14, Dan Hipkiss read a report by an Eastern Counties Rugby coach which said he had talent, but was unlikely to make the following year's squad.

AT the age of 14, Dan Hipkiss read a report by an Eastern Counties Rugby coach which said he had talent, but was unlikely to make the following year's squad.

Tonight the former pupil of Eye's Hartismere High School stands on the verge of an historic Rugby World Cup winners' medal when England take on South Africa at the Stade de France.

Speaking to the East Anglian Daily Times, the Ipswich-born player said he never imagined playing in a World Cup final. “It is a surprise,” said the Leicester Tigers centre. “It was a surprise to get a call-up into the World Cup squad but you have to push that to one side because if you spend all the time in shock at this level then you will not last very long. You have got to have confidence in your own ability.”

Hipkiss' first taste of rugby came at the age of six when his dad Chris, who played for England Schools' under-16, took him to Diss Rugby Club.

“I remember it being very exciting because it was the first time that I had played a proper team sport. I used to watch 101 Best Tries on video with my Dad and doing something that he did was very exciting.

“I learned all the basics of the game and the skills that I needed to progress at Diss. I learned the ethos of rugby and the importance of team work.”

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It is no surprise that Hipkiss credits his rise to the top to his Dad, who was a coach at Diss together with Les Moir, who the star also says was a big influence.

At the age of 16 the teenager, who lived with his parents in Occold, was offered a scholarship at Uppingham School in Rutland after being spotted by the Leicester Tigers. He has remained at the Midlands club ever since.

Last year was his breakthrough season, where he picked up winning medals for the Guinness Premiership and the EDF Energy Cup. He also won the Tigers Players' Player of the Season. But despite now displaying his skills in the Rugby World Cup, the modest star has never forgotten his roots.

“I remember us winning the under-15s Eastern Cup Final at Diss Rugby Club and I think that was the first tournament that I won. At the time it felt as good as winning the Guinness Premiership for Leicester last year and I will always remember that.”

Last Saturday Hipkiss played a full 40 minutes in the memorable semi-final victory against France and says it was like nothing he has experienced before.

“In terms of intensity and atmosphere it was better than anything else I have experienced. Everyone was completely focused with what we needed to do and with the atmosphere it was second to none.

“I think we managed to stop France from playing the game they wanted to play. Our defence early on shored up the holes that they wanted to attack and maybe made them change their style of rugby.

“We were obviously delighted with the win and we enjoyed the night but we also started to prepare for the final.”

All England fans will be hoping that tonight's final against South Africa does not go the way of the group game which England lost 36-0.

“We will learn from that and look at where we went wrong but we will not dwell on it too much,” he said.

And whether he is a World Cup winning player or not, Hipkiss has already promised to return to Diss Rugby Club after the tournament for a day's coaching with more than 400 youngsters.

“Diss Rugby Club has been very good to me and I have spent lots of my time playing rugby there and hopefully one Sunday I will go back and do some coaching. It will be great to see another side of rugby and it will bring back all the memories and good times that I had.”

The star has suffered a number of setbacks during his career which included a career threatening injury at the age of 17 and struggling to get into the Tigers first team. But he has one simple message to any youngsters looking to follow in his footsteps.

“People progress at different times and you should never write yourself off. If you are determined enough it does not matter where you come from, you will always succeed.”