Raffi Quirke is hot stuff! His heroes are more Raymond Blanc than Serge Blanco, but young Sale scrum-half is fired up to claim the England No 9 shirt
- The stock of Raffi Quirke is rising fast after just two starts in the Premiership
- Sale coach Alex Sanderson has tipped him to become the next Faf de Klerk
- The 20-year-old spends his time away from the game honing his cooking skills
For a moment, Raffi Quirke is looking vaguely flustered. The frying pan has just thrown out a three-foot flame after catching a splash of vodka. The cameraman asks for a second take at the flambe-effect photograph, leaving the steaks in danger of becoming overcooked.
‘I don’t want them going chewy!’ says the budding chef.
At the same time, Quirke is reeling off some of his idols. Jamie Oliver, Raymond Blanc, Gennaro Contaldo. Not the names you would expect from a young scrum-half who has just been selected in his first England training squad.
The stock of Sale scrum-half Raffi Quirke is rising fast after just two starts in the Premiership
‘Cooking gives me something to focus on away from rugby,’ he says, looking through the drawers for some black pepper. ‘One day, I’d love to open a little local restaurant with seasonal menus. Not boring grub — things like duck breast with a nice blackberry sauce. It’s something to save up my rugby money for!’
Quirke’s rugby stock is rising quickly. His coach at Sale, Alex Sanderson, has already tipped him to become the next Faf de Klerk. Eddie Jones has also cottoned on to the 20-year-old’s potential, selecting him for this week’s training camp, despite having started just two Premiership games.
‘I was absolutely buzzing when I found out,’ says Quirke. ‘I was at home on the sofa, about to watch Silent Witness with my parents. Suddenly this WhatsApp notification popped up on my phone adding me to a group chat with all these star players. I was looking through the pictures and there were guys like Ben Youngs, Owen Farrell and Anthony Watson. You’re sat there thinking, “What the hell is going on?”
‘Five minutes later, a message came through on the group saying, “Congratulations on being selected”. I was shocked. You stop to take it all in, ring a few people and feel this massive rush of adrenaline. I was too excited to get to sleep that night, so we went back to watch Silent Witness!’ It was the latest step in his rise up the ranks, a journey which began as a schoolboy taking trips to watch Sale at Heywood Road.
The budding chef lists his idols as Jamie Oliver, Raymond Blanc, Gennaro Contaldo
Jones has called up 172 players during his six-year tenure and, in the long term, the youngster does not want to make up the numbers.
‘Growing up, I watched Jason Robinson, Sebastien Chabal and Charlie Hodgson at Sale. I’ve got an old jersey — XXXXL so it’s massive — signed by all those guys, in my wardrobe at home. My uncle won it in a raffle and gave it to me. I would look at all the autographs to work out who they are — Chabal had a fish drawn next to his because they used to call him Seabass.
‘My dream was always to be a professional rugby player like those guys. I wanted to go to Saint Ambrose School because we drove past their massive pitch on the way to my grandma’s. I took the entrance exam and got in by one point! Every time I blew a dandelion or blew out birthday candles, I wished that one day I would become a professional rugby player.
‘I played all the way through school, Broughton Park, Lancashire Colts and Sale with that goal. Then I watched that Richie McCaw documentary, where he wrote down everything he wanted to achieve in a little book and I did the same. He had his big, big goals, so I wrote down things like playing a big role for England, winning the World Cup and playing for the Lions.
Sale coach Alex Sanderson has tipped the 20-year-old to become the next Faf de Klerk
‘I’ve got that book in my bedside table but I don’t take it out too often. I’ve got another notebook that I bring with me to training at Sale, which is more day-to-day things. Ticking things off each day. There’s nothing to tick off in my other book because I’ve not played yet! Being picked in the training squad is amazing and hopefully it’s a step towards playing for England.
‘I spoke to Tom Curry after the Six Nations and asked him how he is so relentless and off the back of that I’ve started working on breathing techniques — breath holds, Kapalabhati and things like that — to help with cardiovascular output.
‘Danny Care was the player I loved to watch. I always thought I’d love to play like him. I would always record the Sevens and fast forward to the Fiji games because I loved guys like Jerry Tuwai. Now you’ve got Faf, Antoine Dupont, Aaron Smith. I’d like people to get excited when I get the ball. That’s the sort of player you want to be.’
Time will tell but, if Quirke’s rise continues, there will doubtless be a number of celebratory meals along the way.