Beaufort & Blake: At Lunch with Charlie Matthews, Premiership Rugby Player
For the first article in our ‘Beaufort & Blake Meets’ series, we caught up with one of the Aviva premiership’s rising stars – Charlie Matthews. The Harlequins second row took some time out to meet with us at Mr Fogg’s Tavern in Central London to tell us about life as a professional rugby player.
Where did your journey as a professional rugby player first begin?
“I started playing mini rugby, as most players do, and subsequently worked my way up through the ranks at Chichester Rugby club, also playing regularly for my school. From there I was selected for Sussex County trials – an arduous process of cold Sunday after cold Sunday trying to impress the coaching staff.
“I seem to remember it was always horrible weather, and always freezing. Sometimes I would think - what am I doing? It was an endless process – club games followed by county games followed by divisional games followed by training.”
The cold weather didn’t put you off then?
“Not at all, although it was pretty much a test to see if you could make it through winter. Unfortunately I didn’t quite make it to the end that year – I got to the England trials for my division but didn’t make it through. I was more than chuffed though as all I really wanted was to make it into my county.
“Next thing I knew both Quins & Wasps approached me - offering me a place in their school academy system. I decided to go for Quins - being my local club and all my Sussex friends were there. I’ve been there ever since and love it.”
So I guess that was your first big break, what came next?
“Two years later I trialled for England U18 and got all the way through to the second team. Due to an injury, a space became available in the first team and I was lucky enough to go on tour to South Africa.
“Quins then signed me up but I wanted to go to university – luckily they thought it would be good for me and agreed. I went up to Loughborough, where I played for the first team, and as I was about to start my third year Quins gave me the call-up and gave me the chance to play full time professional rugby.
Has it always been your dream to play for Harlequins?
“When I was around 12 or 13, I realised I needed to make that decision as to who I was going support. I initially followed my father and supported Sale - he grew up in Manchester and played for the club, so it only seemed logical.
“Living down South though, I wasn’t able to see many games so had to make the decision between Quins & London Irish, two clubs my father also had brief stints at.
“Eventually I decided that I would support both of the London clubs and then go see the Sale games when up north. I guess it was a little greedy supporting all three but Quins was always the one that stood out for me.”
Was your father’s passion for rugby something that was instilled into you at a young age?
“He certainly wasn’t a pushy father but growing up I always wanted to impress him – be as good as I could and get as far as I could in rugby. I wanted to make him proud I guess. He’s definitely my number one fan!”
So I’m guessing he’s spent quite a few hours in the freezing cold watching you play?
“Yeah, but he’s a Northerner so he handles it well.”
What's the biggest obstacle you faced in making your professional dream a reality?
“There were certainly some sacrifices but the positives massively outweighed the negatives. I guess I didn’t get to go to as many 18th or 21st birthdays as I would have liked to as I always had trials or training the next day.
“Looking back, nothing really seemed like a sacrifice. It’s all been worth it. The biggest setback I faced was at a Sussex U15 trial – the first time my ability was truly tested against other players. From such a young age I had wanted to be a professional rugby player and I didn’t even make it past the first trial! One of the senior coaches at Chichester rugby club even said to my dad at the trial that if I didn’t get through this stage I was never going to amount to anything.”
Have you ever crossed paths with that coach again?
“Yeah, I actually bump into him quite a bit as he coaches the minis at Quins. It’s quite nice to be able to joke about how wrong he was.”
Would you say his comments gave you inspiration to work even harder?
“Most definitely, I spent the summer after those trials with some friends who were avid skiers and I completed all of their training regimes. It was pretty rigorous stuff but certainly put me in good stead for the following year where I guess I made my break.”
So what’s next, are there hopes to elevate your career to the international arena?
“Obviously every English player in the premiership hopes to play for their country – to be part of such an incredible setup. But, I guess it’s more an as and when. Quins is my priority first and foremost, and my duty is to perform for them week in week out.
“The rest is slightly out of my hands – it’s down to the England coaching team and their perception of whether they think I would be the right choice for the team. I focus on what I can do for Quins and the rest will hopefully fall into place.”
This weekend, England has the opportunity to secure the Grand Slam at the Six Nation’s. Who’s been your standout player of this year’s competition?
“I’ve got to say Maro Itoje – he’s been really impressive. There was a lot of chat about him last year but I didn’t really get a chance to see much of him playing – but I know he’s a real raw talent with great athletic ability.
“Fair play to him, he’s absolutely smashed it this season. I was lucky enough to play against him when we beat Sarries at the beginning of the season and he was outstanding to play against. He is an absolute nuisance, in the right way - a true competitor. I did my best to get under his skin but he was just too much of a true sportsman. He’s been so impressive this Six Nations.”
Moving away from rugby toward your personal life, what does an average day look like for Charlie Matthews?
“Well, I’ve recently moved from Putney out to countryside into the Surrey Hills so can often be found walking my dog first thing in the morning. I then head to training, which takes up most of my day, usually followed by a recovery massage…obviously wearing my Beaufort & Blake boxers [We’ll take his word for it]
“When back home I’ll head out for another dog walk and then chill. As you’d expect - I cant live too wild a lifestyle…
“…Oops, I forgot to mention my girlfriend (wait, now fiancée as we just got engaged this weekend) is an excellent chef and she usually rustles up something pretty special.”
You’re a stylish man, what are your essential wardrobe items?
“Ok – well obviously Beaufort & Blake boxers, shirt, socks…ha”
“No – I must admit I love my shoes and I’ve got a pretty good selection of tassel loafers that I like to bring out every so often. I pretty much live in Oxford shirts, you’ll find quite a few of those in my wardrobe!”
When this season is over, and you get some downtime, what have you got planned?
“We’re actually going to crack on and get married this summer. The plan is to get married in the Cotswolds in June. We’re not going to do the honeymoon this summer so instead we’re having a ‘staycation’ with some old friends. Not quite as exotic as you probably would have imagined”
So, we’re here at Mr Foggs Tavern. What would we normally find you drinking?
“Well I must admit, I do like a good ale (or two). In fact, I actually have a bit of a whisky collection and have been eyeing the selection behind the bar. You would probably find me drinking an Old Fashioned.
Before we go, we have to ask what’s your hidden talent?
“Well obviously dancing! Jokes aside, I’m actually a bit of a painter believe it or not. I recently painted my girlfriends family dog and she seemed to like it enough to frame it.”
You’re a bit of artist in the making as well as a professional rugby player then?
“I guess so - not sure how much money I would make from selling my paintings though! Maybe I’ll just stick to rugby…”
Photo credit: Ed Cavendish