Despite narrowly losing out to Newcastle Falcons in the Championship play-off final last month, Bedford Blues young fly half Jake Sharp is clearly very much in the ascendency. Sharp scored all of the Blues points in the second leg of the final in an enthralling game but is anything but disappointed after the defeat.
It is clear from the beginning of our conversation that Sharp is really happy with where he is at right now. He is obviously loving his time at Bedford and feels the club have a really big future ahead of them having finally reached the Championship final after several years of trying.
Things could however have been very different for Sharp had injury not slowed his progress at his first club Saracens. During the 2010/11 season he was dual-registered at Bedford and Saracens along with current British & Irish Lion Owen Farrell.
It was during this season that Saracens underwent a major injury crisis at fly half with first choice Derick Hougaard and back-up Alex Goode both struck by injury. At the time Sharp would have been the natural replacement at the club but a broken arm in pre-season meant it was Farrell who was called up instead, and the rest as they say is history.
The Sharp family connection with Saracens doesn’t end there however, with Jake’s younger brother Josh having just signed an academy contract with the club. Jake has therefore been making the most of his brothers current career trajectory by training with him in their parents back garden in the build up to Bedford’s pre-season on 13th July.
Sharp isn’t one to dwell on what could have been however and seems genuinely passionate about his club Bedford Blues and where they are heading. He talks excitedly about how Bedford are building on the foundations of this season ready for a charge on the play-off final once again where hopefully the club can go one better.
He is not naive enough to simply expect Bedford will be able to repeat the feats of this season with the Championship looking stronger than ever next season, although he does go as far as to admit that the mood around the club is “full of positivity for next season”.
He goes on to claim that the club are once again confident of reaching the play-offs although for Sharp this would be the minimum expectation. He expects stiff competition from the likes of London Welsh, Bristol, Leeds, Nottingham and even Jersey who are all building strongly ahead of the new season..
“Whilst these clubs are obviously on our radar Bedford’s main focus has to be on ourselves”. It is potentially this clear-minded focus that has seen Bedford continue to be so competitive despite the clubs semi-professional status.
In some respects though Sharp feels it is the fact that Bedford aren’t full-time professionals that has seen them be so competitive over such a sustained period of time. “The Tuesday and Thursday training sessions mean players have the chance to develop their own style and way of playing” and it is for this reason that he feels Bedford have been able to develop a raft of top class players that are currently playing for some of the biggest clubs in Europe and in many cases for their national teams.
In recent years Bedford have seen England and Lions players like Mako Vunipola, Dan Cole and Billy Twelvetrees come through the first team, although unfortunately often as part of a dual-registration deal. Fortunately however, this season Bedford have been able to keep hold of the majority of their stars including Sharp.
In addition to the slightly more relaxed training schedule, Sharp also believes the man-management style of Head Coach Mike Rayer has been key to the clubs continued success in recent years. Sharp clearly has the utmost respect for Rayer claiming “Mike is a great man manager and is great at helping develop the younger lads in the squad. He also has a fantastic eye for signing players”.
He also believes that Rayer’s slightly less structured method of training is very different to most teams in the Northern Hemisphere and is a big part of the reason that at times Bedford are more than capable of turning on the style and playing some great rugby.
With young players like England Under 18 centre Henry Staff coming through for Bedford things are clearly looking up for Bedford and Sharp is obviously keen to make the next step up into the Premiership with the Blues.
Whilst he mentions that he never planned either way last season for promotion or another year in the Championship, the clubs rise is on the mind of a number of players, particularly those who have to wrestle between a rugby career and paying the bills through jobs like teaching.
At this point the spectre of promotion and relegation is mentioned. Whilst initially against the idea in recent seasons Sharp has become somewhat a fan of the current system believing it to be the key reason behind the Championship being so competitive. He also hopes that should Bedford win the Championship in future seasons the powers that be would be open to challenging the RFU over the strict admission criteria for the Premiership.
When I bring up the possibility of joining a club in the Premiership to further his ambition of playing in the Premiership Sharp remains un-phased in his determination to win promotion with Bedford. “Obviously the thought has crossed my mind, and obviously I’m keen to play at the top level but my focus is 100% with Bedford and I would love to play in the Premiership with them”.
On the question of playing for England again at senior level it is obviously a long-term aim for Sharp having experienced international honours at age group levels although in his honest, down to earth manner his focus, as is sensible for any aspiring player, is fully with his club. He is well aware that to further any international ambitions you must first be playing at the very top for your club.
Sharp remains equally committed to the club when I mention the possibility of playing abroad. Again he admits it is a though that has crossed his mind, although he sounds more interested in the sunnier climates than leaving Bedford at this stage.
During the interview we also discuss the current Lions tour that Sharp feels is going well so far. I also raise the question of former teammate Owen Farrell who Sharp believes is still the same player as he was when the pair were at Bedford together. “Owen is obviously a talented player and has always been able to keep his calm under pressure”.
Sharp is clearly an extremely well-grounded young man and as well as showing a great deal of common sense in his approach to rugby, he is also planning ahead for the future working on his coaching badges and developing his business skills on a course at the local university.
Whilst his aim has always been to take on a coaching role after he hangs up his boots, he is also keen to develop his business skills to develop his potential further.
Fortunately for Bedford and the wider rugby community, Sharp is still a long way off from stepping down from his on-filed commitments and looks to continue to be one to watch. Still just 22 he looks set to have his best years ahead of him and is likely to be a key component of Bedford’s continued ability to punch well above their weight.
Jake was a genuine delight to talk to on all things rugby and I hope everyone will join me in wishing him all the best for the future as his grounded attitude is sure to see him turn into an even bigger star on the rugby field.