Having scored a try against the champions on his first team debut, Iwan Stephens insists last weekend is just the start for him at Newcastle Falcons.
The 19-year-old winger has rugby union pedigree through his father, Colin Stephens, the former Welsh international fly-half, but has risen through the rugby league ranks at Super League side Leeds Rhinos.
Spending last season learning the ropes with the Falcons prior to announcing himself on the Gallagher Premiership stage against Harlequins last Sunday, the fleet-footed Yorkshireman said: “To make my Premiership debut by starting against the champions was a great experience.
“I was a little nervous beforehand but hopefully I handled it okay, and once I was out there I just enjoyed the experience.”
Rounding off a sensational try created by the jinking run of fellow winger Adam Radwan, Stephens recalled: “I just saw Radders running and I thought ‘I know he’s going to break the line here, so I just need to get on his shoulder.’
“I managed to do that – I knew if I supported him there was a chance of a try – and it was great that it came off.
“I had another chance in the second half where I should have scored again. I just saw the opportunity open up, I went through the gap but I knew I’d gone for the corner too early. Looking back, I would have handled that situation differently, although I still thought it was a high tackle to be fair.”
Not a complete novice to rugby union, Stephens revealed: “When I was younger I played rugby league in the summer and union in the winter. I was at Drighlington rugby league club for the whole of the league season, playing full-back and a bit of stand-off, and then at Morley rugby union club during the rugby league off-season I was a winger.
“It was a difficult transition at first when I moved codes full-time to Newcastle, because it’s a completely different sport. At this level you’ve got a lot of things to think about rather than just doing one-up carries, but I’ve had a year to get used to it and I think I’ve benefited from that.
“Obviously the whole situation around Covid meant there weren’t many reserve games last season or opportunities to go out on dual-registration, but I was still in that full-time training environment and just learning all the time. Looking back, I think I’ve benefited from that.”
Cheered on for his debut by his father Colin, who kicked the winning drop-goals for Llanelli against Australia back in 1992, Iwan joked: “He gets the old videos out from time to time, but on a serious note he’s always been really supportive of me.
“He was at the game on Sunday and said he was dead chuffed for me, but I know it’s only the start.
“Obviously the fact we didn’t win is the main thing, but from a personal perspective for making my first team debut I was fairly happy with how it went.
“I’ve taken on board some learning points and had a chat with the coaches about a couple of things, but there were also some really positive moments and that’s given me a lot of optimism in terms of my longer-term development.
“I had a load of messages from a lot of different people afterwards, and my phone was off the hook with the game having been on TV and a lot of the clips going online. That’s obviously all a bit new to me, but to have so many people congratulating you and wishing you well is obviously a nice feeling.
“The key thing for me now is not to get carried away by one game, and to just keep that consistency in my performance. If I do the basics well and keep doing what I do best, then hopefully I’m not in such a bad position.
“We’ve got a load of great wingers here so I’d never take anything for granted in terms of selection, but if I do get another chance then hopefully I can just continue to improve and go from there.”
Newcastle Falcons’ next home game is against Wasps on Saturday October 2. Tickets for the 3pm Gallagher Premiership kick-off are on sale now by clicking here.