NEW Harlequins hero Matt Hopper believes taking a year out playing rugby in Australia made him the player he is today.
The centre had just finished his studies at Cardiff Univesty when he upped and left for Down Under, playing for Manley in the Sydney Premiership.
On his return to England, Hopper became a Championship regular for Plymouth Albion and Cornish Pirates, before finally getting his big break when Quins snapped him up last summer.
Waiting patiently for his chance, Hopper grabbed it with both hands when fellow centre Goerge Lowe picked up an injury in the Heinken Cup win over Connacht.
Hopper made a memorable debut in the following game last Saturday, scoring a crucial try as Quins made it 12 wins out of 12 with a 28-9 win at Gloucester.
He said: “Going to Australia was an idea my wife an I had. I had been travelling there before, but I liked the idea of playing some rugby out there to test myself against a different style and improve my skills. I had been playing university rugby, and suddenly I was coming up against Super 14 players, which helped me grow as a player.”
Much has been made this season about Quins' current batch of young talent, who have come through their academy, but the signing of Hopper shows they are not shy in taking a gamble of lower league players too.
Hopper admits he takes inspiration from the likes of Nick Easter, who scraped around with the likes of Rosslyn Park and Orrell before joining Quins, but has now played in two World Cups and has 50 England caps to his name.
He said: “When you look around at the Quins squad, there are quite a few who have come through the lower leagues route, and seeing what Nick has achieved is defintely an inspiration.
“A year ago, playing at Kingsholm in the Heineken Cup would have been a pipedream for me, but now it's reality, and although it's been unfortunate for George, my challenge is to keep my place.
“The atmosphere after we won at Gloucester was amazing. It was a greatv way to make my debut, and scoring a try was a bonus.
“But we will have to be wary of Newcastle this weekend. They might be bottom of the league, but I believe they were the last team to beat us at The Stoop, and when you're up there like we are, you're the scalp other teams want to take.”