Exeter Chiefs star Jack Nowell has confirmed his excellent season so far by winning the LV= Cup Breakthrough Player of the Year award.
19-year-old Nowell beat off competition from other rising Premiership stars including Marland Yarde, Luke Wallace and Tom Heathcote to clinch the award, having been in great form for the Chiefs this season with performances that led to him making his England U20 debut last weekend against Italy.
"Just to be nominated was absolutely massive for me, so to go on and win it is a great honour," Nowell told Planet Rugby.
"The fact that it is voted for by rugby fans makes winning a huge honour, so thanks to everyone that voted for me. It is also nice to be recognised for playing the game I love and spurs me on to keep doing what I am doing."
Nowell marked his U20 debut with a brace of tries in England's 52-7 victory over the Italians, which keeps their title hopes alive as they travel to Colwyn Bay to take on Wales this weekend, who are hoping to seal a Grand Slam title.
"It was really good to get the win, but in the game as a whole we were a little bit too sloppy," stated Nowell.
"There were a couple of handling errors, but the goal was to get the win and get some points on the board before facing Wales. It was great to grab a couple of tries as well.
"We know Wales are a very good team and they will be going for the Slam, but we just have to go out there and take it to them."
Nowell has been working with England U20s coach Rob Hunter, who will link up with the young winger once again next season when he joins the coaching staff at Exeter. Four players from the Chiefs started for England against Italy including Nowell, prop Luke Cowan-Dickie, fly-half Henry Slade and centre Sam Hill.
"Rob's a great coach and a really nice guy," added Nowell.
"I think he is going to bring a lot to the club next season and he has a lot of knowledge about the game. You only need to look at all of the work he has done with the England U20s over the last couple of years to realise how successful he has been.
"[Sam, Henry, Luke and I] all played together for England U18s and now we're lucky enough to get together for the U20s. The whole squad is really tight but having the boys out there on the pitch is even better, especially to play in an England shirt together."
Nowell joined Exeter after finishing his education at Truro College a couple of years ago - making the rise from college rugby to facing the Scarlets in the Heineken Cup earlier this season. His rapid development is due in part to the exposure he has received playing in the LV= Cup, with Nowell crediting the competition for his improvement.
"Last year I had a couple of LV= Cup and Challenge Cup games before getting injured, but it's been absolutely amazing this year to play in the Premiership and Heineken Cup," he said.
"The LV= Cup is just a great chance for young players to get out and play and build confidence before being selected to play in the Premiership.
"The mentality at Exeter has always been that if you're good enough you're old enough - if you're on form and playing well the coaches are not afraid to throw you in at the deep end."
Whilst the majority of his appearances for Exeter and the England U20 side have come on the wing so far, Nowell admits that he sees himself as a full-back moving forward in his career.
"At the moment I'm enjoying playing on the wing, but my preferred position is full-back," added Nowell.
"But being on the wing has given me a chance to play in the Premiership and for the U20s so I'm grateful for that. Making the move from full-back to wing isn't that big."
Given his rate of progression so far in professional rugby, Nowell's impressive footwork and pace have him marked out as a future England international, with his LV= Cup Breakthrough Player of the Year award confirming he is on his way to the top.
by Ben Coles