Will Hurrell has revealed his hopes of a senior England debut still burn bright after a first season of Premiership rugby attracted high praise from a World Cup winner.
The former Melton RFC man’s personal satisfaction of his debut campaign among the English elite was tempered by the disappointment of relegation for his club side Bristol.
But consistent praise from retired England star Will Greenwood has spurred Hurrell on to keep his ambitions high and take his game to higher levels.
Greenwood named Hurrell in his Premiership team of the year, rating him the best centre in the league - the position in which Greenwood himself earned 55 caps for his country and a World Cup medal.
“Will Greenwood has done a couple of nice pieces in the Telegraph on me which was really nice to see,” Hurrell said.
“He was a 13, so coming from him, it means a lot and makes all of the hard work seem worth it.
“There are good centres about and I’m not a typical 13. All of my mates took the mickey out of me because I had the most turnovers in the league – not the most typical stat for a 13!
“There are still parts of my game I can add to make me more of an all-round player, but to hear those kind of things really spur you on.”
Hurrell played for England at every age group, and appeared in two Under 20s World Championships for the Red Rose.
And despite taking a sabbatical from the professional game to complete a university degree, he believes there’s still time for senior England caps.
“Physically, I’ve still got a bit to go and I think I can play until I’m 35 or 36,” he said. “So if I can keep pushing, I can put myself in line for England.
“I know I have a long way to go, but I’m an ambitious person and I really want to push now. It may be unachievable, but I want to give it a shot.
“I’m going to spend the next year developing myself so when we get back into the Premier I can hit the ground running, and then, who knows.”
Premiership clubs have offered Hurrell an escape from the drop to Championship rugby.
But the 27-year-old is committed to seeing out his two-year contract and helping Bristol bounce straight back under new coach Pat Lam.
Encouragingly for Bristol supporters, Hurrell has laid down roots in the city and is moving into a new place.
“There has been other interest, but I signed a two-year contract at Bristol and I’m going to stick with them,” he added.
“I have no doubt we will do well next year with Pat Lam and with the signings we are making.
“I’m really happy here and I’ve really enjoyed it so far.”
It was a difficult season for the south west club, picking up only three wins on their way to finishing bottom.
There was also a change of management in November when former England and Scotland head coach Andy Robinson, the man who brought Hurrell to Bristol, was sacked.
But despite the change in hierarchy. Hurrell retained his place, playing every league game of the season and starting all but one of them.
He said: “It was a good learning experience, but I’m really gutted we got relegated; it’s a tough league and there are no weak teams.
“It was a huge step-up and some of the games I found difficult at the start, but after a few games I found myself getting my groove and by the end of the season I felt quite comfortable.”
Being an ever-present not only demonstrated his popularity with coaches, but also impressive fitness to survive an entire campaign in the intensely physical league.
“I spend a lot of time in the gym to make sure I’m physically ready for the games,” he added.
“Physicality is a huge part of my game so I’ve been quite lucky with my durability and with injuries.
“I love testing myself against the biggest and it’s a huge step-up physically. Even the smaller guys are strong as hell.
“In the Championship you can get away with a few things. If you don’t run exactly the right line, you can still get to the gain line, but in the Premier if you aren’t hitting the space, you are going to get smashed.”
Proud parents Bill and Julia spent the season buzzing around the country on their motorcycle to attend every game, but it was the shortest trip of the season - up the A607 to Leicester – which was the most poignant.
Hurrell spent his formative years at Welford Road, including several seasons with the academy before leaving to find first team rugby.
“Going back there with a different team was a real experience,” he said.
“It was good to see some old faces, though I would personally like to have played against Manu (Tuilagi).
“Walking through the crowds to warm up, people were saying hello and congratulating me, and it was really nice to hear that.”