Exclusive – Bath’s Michael Etete on BUCS ‘launch pad’ and National League experience

Michael Etete joined Bath after time with Rams, Leeds Beckett University and Leeds Tykes
©Patrick Khachfe/Onside Images

After taking up the sport in his teens, Michael Etete is very much living out his dream of being a professional rugby player with Bath.

First experiencing the game at Ashford School in Kent, he began life as a centre - which on the face of it is completely ordinary - but throw in the fact that Etete now stands at 6’7” tall, and it becomes a bit puzzling that he wasn’t pointed towards the pack for several years.

His journey to the elite game has its chapters. This includes his time at National League Rugby side Rams, the lock and back-row heading to Old Bath Road to play his rugby after being consigned to the third XV at the University of Reading.

Former Rams Director of Rugby Mike Tewkesbury was behind Etete’s move into the forwards, where the 25-year-old has thrived ever since. Enjoying the better part of three years playing men’s rugby, he thought that in order to achieve his ambition of playing the game professionally, a return to university rugby with Leeds Beckett might hold the key.

“I wanted to play professional rugby,” he said. “That’s what I wanted to do since I was 17 or 18, and I think just seeing the Alex Dombrandt’s and Luke Northmore’s transition from BUCS to professional rugby, I thought why not play BUCS and see what could happen and see if I would take the same sort of pathway.

“I think it [BUCS Super Rugby] is definitely a good option if you want to get your name out there and get coaches looking at you. I think BUCS is definitely a good way to go. To a lot of younger boys who would be in the academy set-up, I’d say go to uni because coaches are watching those leagues anyway.”

This summer alone has seen plenty of BUCS Super Rugby talent move to Premiership sides. Bristol Bears and Pat Lam set out their stall with the recruitment of front-row trio Fred Davies, Martin Mulhall and Rhys Charalambous, while the incumbent champions, the University of Exeter, saw Tom Hitchcock [London Irish], Fin Richardson and Jacob Morris [both Exeter Chiefs] all sign Premiership deals.

In recent weeks, BT Sport pundit Austin Healey tipped the university system to have the potential to take over from the traditional academy set-up, the competition’s stock never having been higher than in these past weeks as professional club rugby in England has hit turbulence like never before.

Having never been involved in a professional set-up in his youth, Etete’s time with Kerry Wood’s team was massively informative for the player. Not only gaining a masters, but the Londoner also experienced the game in a different way and thrived in West Yorkshire as a result.

“It is a pretty good set-up,” Etete said. “Professional, having S&C coaches and having multiple rugby sessions a week. When I was at Reading, we trained on a Monday night and then used to play on a Wednesday and have the rest of the week off.

“It was pretty different, but it was a good introduction to a professional set-up. I think it is a good pathway to take especially for boys straight out of school. I found when I went into it, because I was a bit older, physicality-wise it wasn’t too demanding because I was playing against people who were 18 and I had played against men.

“It was a bit less demanding physically. There is definitely some good players that you play against.”

Having now trodden the same pathway as Northmore and Dombrandt, Etete has seen first-hand why university rugby was so vital to the pair’s development, the opportunity to be immersed in rugby key to his own progression too.

“I feel like those guys anyway would have had the potential,” Etete said. “I think it is just a good launch pad in terms of having that professional environment adding to your development, strength and conditioning or developing your actual rugby skills through coaching time and one-on-one time with coaches.

“After our games on Wednesdays, we’d normally have a review on the Friday and look back through the games with the coaches individually. I think that helps with the personal development and making you a better player all round.”

So far Etete has made two appearances for Bath in the Premiership Rugby Cup
©Patrick Khachfe/Onside Images

After concluding the BUCS season earlier this year, Etete was encouraged to go and line-up for Leeds Tykes in National One. Returning to the competition, it was a dogfight for the side who were trying to avoid relegation to the fourth tier. Ultimately, Tykes escaped the drop and Etete had impressed with a string of dominant performances.

Jon Callard was the key man to have been dazzled by the lock. Leeds’s head coach believed that Etete had the capability to mix it with the best in the Premiership with his physicality and explosiveness.

The Bath legend has also returned to Somerset as kicking coach and Etete arrived alongside him at Farleigh House to learn the ropes from experienced pros and internationals that also call the West Country home.

So far, his appearances in Blue, Black and White have all come in the Premiership Rugby Cup. Making two starts in the second row, each fixture has ended in defeat, but it is very much the start for a player just making his tentative first steps into professional club rugby.

“I guess you are always questioning whether you would be able to hang with the big boys when you come into this environment,” Etete laughed. “Everyone was very welcoming, and it was good. The training is a lot tougher. The first few weeks were tough trying to get up to speed.

“The boys were super helpful, getting me up to speed with all the calls and the system, just helping me with any extra stuff I needed. The older boys in similar positions to me were super supportive and now, conditioning-wise, I am in and around the level I need to be.

“I just want to, whenever I get the opportunity to play, just try and put in a dominant performance and let the coaches know that I am ready to step up if needed.”

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