Alec Hepburn knows he must overcome ‘stiff competition’ from Exeter Chiefs teammate Ben Moon if he is to stand any chance of making England’s Rugby World Cup squad.
After another stellar season at club level, the front-row duo have both earned international recognition over the past 12 months, with Moon featuring in the recent Six Nations campaign and Hepburn starting against South Africa in the autumn.
With the indomitable Mako Vunipola of Saracens and Leicester Tigers’ Ellis Genge also in their ranks, England look particularly well stocked at loosehead heading into September’s big kick-off.
But despite plenty of threat from outside Devon, for Hepburn at least, any dreams of making the plane to Japan are temporarily on hold while he battles for his place at club level.
“Moony is very stiff competition and we’re both battling it out,” said Hepburn, who was speaking at a Gallagher ‘Train with your Heroes’ session at Crediton RFC after their ladies side won a nationwide competition launched by Premiership title partner Gallagher.
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“We work very well together and help each other quite a lot. We give each other feedback and want to see each other do well.
“He had an incredible Six Nations and autumn and is doing fantastically well, so we’ll just keep fighting it out.
“Playing with these players week in, week out inspires people to want to push on to the next level. Seeing them do very well makes you think it’s (international recognition) just a stone’s throw away for a lot of the squad.
“I can’t look beyond Exeter shirts before I look elsewhere.
“It’d be a hell of an achievement to be involved. There’s a lot of good players in the Gallagher Premiership, we’ve got 12 professional teams, so if you’re even in with a shout you’re doing pretty well.
“I’m always fairly critical so there’s a lot of areas I think I can improve personally. Most of all though it’s about being myself rather than trying to be someone else.
“The autumn was an awesome experience, so it’s just been very enjoyable every game.
Our friends from @GallagherUK are at Crediton this evening with @ExeterChiefs as they lead a #TrainWithYourHeroes session with local winners @CreditonRFC Ladies U15s. Session led by #GallagherPrem stars @Yenz_2 @HarryWilliams91 and Alec Hepburn pic.twitter.com/xcWnah4vua
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“I wish I’d done a few things differently looking back on it, but I guess that’s the way experience is – you only get it at the end of the process.
“I think I’ve learned a lot of lessons. Hopefully it has made me a better player.”
Chiefs are riding high at the top of Gallagher Premiership Rugby, and hold a nine-point lead over nearest challengers Saracens.
With a home semi-final at Sandy Park already secured, Rob Baxter’s men sent out another message to their title rivals in beating Leicester Tigers 52-20 at Welford Road last weekend.
And while they lost out to Wasps in their first Sandy Park defeat for a year, Hepburn believes even more is to come from last season’s runners-up.
He added: “We’ve been simmering away for a little while and it’s only now that the results seem to be putting us in a position.
“We’re steered well with good coaching and a lot of the players are starting to take ownership now too.
“We can’t look beyond a semi-final but even then that’s still just over a month away.
“We’ve got four more games and you might not finish top, so for us, we need to keep reinforcing the good habits so we can stay top and go into the semi-finals with the best chance.
“We’re not satisfied when we have one good game. You don’t win anything for having one good victory. We’ve got to keep building and getting better. There were definitely parts of the Leicester that we could have done better.
“We conceded 20 points in the first-half, so that’s where we can make gains. At this time of the year when the pitches are dry, you can be lured into playing open and not defending.
“There’s a lot of scope to improve our defence.”
Alec Hepburn was speaking at a Gallagher ‘Train with your Heroes’ session at Crediton RFC after their ladies side won a nationwide competition launched by Gallagher, a passionate community insurance broker and proud title partner of Premiership Rugby.