From being handed a small rugby ball at the age of 3, to travelling to Japan with the Italy squad; Cal Braley’s rugby career is a very special story.
When asking Cal about his first rugby memory he said he remembers being taken into the changing rooms at Bristol Imperial RFC where his Dad was club captain. With his Dad being a rugby fanatic, Cal was thrown a rugby ball from a young age and it was obvious then that rugby was going to be a big part of Cal’s life! Just one year later, Cal was in the car with his Dad on the way to his first training session at St Mary’s – which was just a few miles from his home in Bristol. Cal is very thankful to his Dad, who passed on his love for the game from the get go and was without doubt been the greatest rugby influence.
Cal played down at St Mary’s from 5 right through to the age of 16 whilst also playing for Colston’s School in Bristol at 14 and 15. We asked Cal to name the best player he ever played with whilst growing up but he said he couldn’t choose just one stand out player in an awesome team. He did however, give special mentions to Joe Joyce, now of Bristol Bears; Steph Reynolds, ex Gloucester and 7s speedster; Fergus Manners and Mike Norman who he said were exceptional growing up!
After impressing for club and school, Cal was called up to the county team which later led to being selected by Bristol Academy and England Under 16’s. At just 16, Cal left home and started at Hartpury College, where he lived in the same block as Mike Haley, fellow LooseHeadz ambassador. During his time at Hartpury, he was part of a team that won two ASSE league titles. In the same time, he made his Bristol first team debut and gained England Under 18 honours – an unbelievable achievement. Cal was impressing at all levels and after Hartpury, he signed for Bristol aged 18 and spent two enjoyable years there whilst learning his trade. Whilst at Bristol, Cal played for England U20’s, winning the Six Nations title in 2013 and the Junior World Championship Title in both 2013 and 2014. Cal captained the side in 2014. He signed for Gloucester in 2014 and is now preparing for his sixth season at what he describes as a wonderful club.
Whilst growing up, Cal’s first rugby hero was Iain Balshaw. He says he remembers watching him in his early years and loved the way he played at ease. However, being 9 years old when England won the Rugby World Cup in 2003, his second rugby hero was of course, Jonny Wilkinson. Who else?
So, the opportunity with Italy…
The opportunity came a little out of the blue for Cal. He knew that Conor O’Shea was aware of his Italian eligibility and had been keeping an eye on him for about a year but he never really thought much would come of it. However, during the Six Nations earlier this year, Cal received a call from O’Shea asking if he could go over and be a part of their third game preparation against Ireland. O’Shea made it very clear to Cal that he wasn’t going to play but Cal enjoyed three weeks in camp during the Six Nations nevertheless to get a feel for international rugby at the very top level. For Cal, he knew he always had two avenues for international rugby and is hugely grateful to O’Shea for giving him the opportunity to play for Italy. It was a childhood dream for Cal so when that first call up came, he says it was an “absolute no-brainer”!When talking about pulling the Italy jersey on for the first time, Cal described this as “pretty magical”. However, he said the best feeling was actually being presented the jersey by Tito Tibaldi – that’s when it felt real for Cal.
“Once it’s game day and I pull the jersey on, I try not to get too carried away with my emotions and just focus on my job for the game, but of course pulling the Italy jersey on for the first time made my body tingle.”
It will of course help having fellow Gloucester team-mate Jake Polledri around but Cal has said he’s connected really well with squad despite the obvious difficulties of integrating into a new side – especially with the obvious language barrier. “The boys have been amazing and welcomed me in – they have been so supportive. It’s been great to connect with an old friend in Dave Sisi from my U20’s days and Seb Negri who I’ve known for a few years from his time at Hartpury. Having familiar faces has been great, but it’s also given me chance to deepen those friendships which is just awesome.”
Along with his team-mates, Cal is hungry for success heading into the World Cup. It will be tough for an Italy side that face both South Africa and New Zealand in the group stages but Cal mentions that training has been awesome and that the squad have covered a lot of metres at very high intensity. “I can’t wait to get going in Japan and play some rugby with such a great bunch of guys!”Cal has recently become a father which he describes as “the best feeling in the world”. It has been tough for Cal over the past few months with being away training with the squad however, he gives a special mention to his wife – “I’m so lucky to have such an amazing wife who is just the best mum ever and looking after our son so well. I’m so grateful for FaceTime but nothing beats spending time with my son and wife.”
After all, is said and done every player wants to achieve their ‘Everest’. This might be winning the RWC or just doing themselves and their family and loved ones proud. It might also be somewhere in between. For Cal, someone who has been involved in rugby his whole life with his Dad having thrust him into rugby life as a young boy, he will feel the sheer pride of playing his heart out a hundred times over as he thinks of his own newly born son. Dads and their sons are inseparable…words are meaningless – it’s pride personified when a son archives their Father’s dreams of playing God’s greatest game – go well Cal.