Leeds Carnegie: Sporting stretch for Armstrong

DUAL CALLING: But Jake Armstrong, 17, would prefer a sporting career in union with Leeds Carnegie rather than as a discus thrower.
DUAL CALLING: But Jake Armstrong, 17, would prefer a sporting career in union with Leeds Carnegie rather than as a discus thrower.
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BEING good at everything brings its own problems, just ask Leeds Carnegie youngster Jake Armstrong – one of the country’s brightest young union and discus talents.

The Leeds-born ace makes his England bow in France in the oval ball game this weekend and, long term, it is in his home city with Carnegie he hopes to shine.

Armstrong’s sporting career began in junior football as a seven-year-old goalkeeper with the Calverley United club but, 10 years on, he is representing his country in two totally different sports.

So far the two have worked in tandem, the all-rounder able to focus on rugby matters through the colder months and turn his attentions to athletics in the summer.

There will, however, come a time when the talented teen has to choose and it is his contract with Leeds Carnegie – and the lure of union fame – that wins the day.

Armstrong aims to break into the Headingley Carnegie outfit’s first team, insisting he will stay at university in Leeds if the Aviva Premiership side offer him a new contract, and admits union trumps his love of athletics when push comes to shove.

“I was sporty at primary school and started out with Calverley,” Armstrong explained. “And my little brother, George, started playing rugby before me.

“I went to watch a couple of his games – he was at Aireborough – and thought that I’d quite like it but they didn’t have a team for my age group.

“My dad wanted us to play at the same club and we ended up at Otley where I was coached by one of the best coaches, definitely at junior level, but also a coach of a National One side, in Gary Walker.

“I started at under-13s but when I was 13 I was nearly 6ft and 15 stone, so I was a big lad. I had the raw talent and the physical attributes.

“In the end I stopped playing footy. Obviously Calverley was my local team, with all my friends playing for them, but I knew, realistically, I was only playing because my friends were – though I wasn’t a bad goalkeeper.”

In turning from football to rugby he was following his dad Paul who, amazingly, also went on to be an England international discus thrower.

Though Armstrong only took up athletics seriously as a teenager, even at Calverley Church of England Primary School his throwing ability was apparent.

Armstrong continued: “I started discus at under-15s level, when I was 13, but it probably started when I was at Calverley C of E. There was a teacher there who used to get us to do javelin and obviously they were just foam ones so I could chuck them miles.

“I ended up going down to South Leeds to train. The coach there said the javelin would be my best event but with my first throw I hit myself on the back of my head with the metal javelin and that hurt!

“I stayed in javelin for a couple of months but then just progressed on, did a little bit of shot put and then tried the discus.”

His discus high came while representing England, when he won at the Home Internationals meet in Glasgow. His winning throw of 53.62m was the 19th best of all time for his age group.

The union high will come over the next two weekends when he represents England under-17s across the Channel and then in Scotland.

Spurred

It will be Armstrong’s international rugby debut and the young Yorkshireman cannot wait, especialy after getting knocked back by England under-16s last year.

Recalling that disappointment he said: “I was a bit gutted really, but I think it spurred me on because there was another lad at Leeds who did get into the England squad in my position – Matt Beaumont. I think failing at England under-16s made me a lot better player.

“I’m really looking forward to this weekend because it’s my first time playing for England. There’s a lot of hype and a lot of attention and it will be a great experience and a great opportunity.”

Further opportunities also lie ahead in the world of discus though Armstrong will have to compete at under-20 level this year and concedes that significant progress looks a tall order.

His dual sporting career, needless to say, leaves scant time for any hobbies – a quick blast on FIFA on his PS3 the best it gets – but which sport would he opt for given the chance?

“There’s definitely more opportunities in rugby then there is an athletics.”

The next few years will reveal in which sport Armstrong’s future lies but, either way, he has already done his family proud.

Dad Paul enthused: “I just think it’s fantastic that he’s got these opportunities in front of him. Obviously he’s had lots of support, but you’ve still got to do it yourself.”

Armstrong is currently in the midst of psychology, PE, biology and English A-levels, but hopes his education and sporting career can all tie in together – and without having to leave Leeds.

“Obviously there’s no way I’ll stray away from academic life,” said Armstrong, whose 20-year-old sister Liz, is also at university in Leeds.

“Whatever Leeds Carnegie want to offer me will depend on where I go to university.

“If they want to keep me at Leeds, if they are really interested in bringing out the best in me then I need to stay in Leeds really and if that means a uni in Leeds so be it.

“If not then I’d like to move away and maybe play at somewhere like Loughborough or Bath, somewhere that’s really excelling in sport, but I think Leeds has got it all really.”

Yorkshire Carnegie captain 
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