Raffi is a Quirke of nature: England star who scored first international try in famous win against South Africa is a part-time barber, a former age-group triathlon champion and a food expert
- Raffi Quirke scored his first try for England in 27-26 win over Springboks
- Sale scrum-half was an age-group triathlon champion at 15-year-old
- Quirke idolised 2003 World Cup winners Jonny Wilkinson and Jason Robinson
- England star is a Manchester United fan and attends games when he can
- Quirke enjoys watching cooking shows and has given his teammates haircuts
When Raffi Quirke scored a try in training after returning to Sale this week, his team-mates mobbed him. ‘They were trying to recreate that celebration at Twickenham,’ said the scrum-half.
His stunning strike against the Springboks a week ago propelled England to a momentous home win over the world champions. It also provided ammunition for banter back at his club.
‘Everyone’s really happy for me — even the South African lads here,’ he said. ‘But they keep telling me I need to work on my diving skills and they’ve all been saying, “What were those faces you were pulling?!”’
Raffi Quirke scored a try against South Africa last week as England beat the world champions
For the 20-year-old from Manchester, last weekend’s grand occasion at the national stadium — his own eye-catching contribution and the manic aftermath — has been a surreal and profound experience.
‘Obviously, it is a dream come true,’ he said. ‘It is a cliche, but that is literally all I had dreamed about, so doing it is really surreal.
‘I keep watching replays of the try on Twitter and thinking, “I can’t believe this has actually happened”. It feels like an out-of-body experience. It is absolutely bonkers.’
The 20-year-old broke clear of Springboks players to finish off a fantastic England move
Quirke joked his teammates have given him a bit of stick over his diving skills
The Sale player’s try came with just 15 minutes left in England’s 27-26 win over South Africa
LIFE AND TIMES OF SPEEDSTER RAFFI
- Born in Manchester in 2001. Started playing rugby aged five.
- Had a passion for triathlon and was North West champion aged 13 but opted to focus on rugby.
- Spent a spell on loan at Sale FC, then made his professional debut for Sale Sharks against Harlequins in February 2021.
- After representing England at Under 16 and Under 18 level, he was called up by Eddie Jones for the senior squad this autumn.
- Came off the bench for Test debut in win over Australia, becoming youngest scrum-half to play for England in 90 years.
- In the final Test of the series, against South Africa, Quirke scored off the bench in a 27-26 win over the world champions.
Quirke finished off an outstanding, clinical and cleverly-conceived England attack.
His long, sharp pass infield from a lineout, with 15 minutes remaining, set the wheels in motion.
Henry Slade sent Joe Marchant clear and Quirke had raced up in support, to take the pass and scorch clear to the line.
‘We spoke at half-time about that exact move, so I had an inkling we would make a break — which is why I ran that cheat line,’ he said. ‘I got the ball from Marchant and I just thought, “There’s no way anyone is going to catch me”.
‘I was on autopilot.
‘I didn’t even think about trying to get under the sticks, I just wanted to get the ball down.’
A large contingent of family and friends had travelled to London to watch Quirke.
He took all the tickets he was allowed and gave one to Owen Lucas, his former coach at St John’s Primary School in Chorlton.
‘He let me play with Year 6s in tournaments when I was in Year 3,’ said Quirke. ‘He backed me a lot.’
This is a talented rookie who has burst to prominence at a time when several scrum-halves are jostling to emerge as the long-term successor to Ben Youngs — England’s Test centurion No 9.
Quirke has benefited from the Leicester veteran’s guidance since joining up with the Red Rose squad.
The try temporarily put England ahead before Marcus Smith’s late penalty clinched the game
At Sale, he has been mentored by the club’s Springbok icon, Faf de Klerk. The South African master has helped to develop a formidable English apprentice.
Rugby was always Quirke’s main passion, but he continues to feel the benefit of other sporting interests. ‘I was North West age-group champion at triathlon when I was about 15,’ he said.
‘My parents did it as well. When we were younger, we’d be driving around the North West doing triathlons, trying to get as many medals as we could.
‘I’ve got an older sister and she did them as well, but she got sick of them pretty quickly. My little brother and sister did them a little bit, too.
‘Doing the triathlon helped because I was always the fittest on a rugby pitch. Even to this day, I feel I should always be the fittest and I’ve got the tools to do that because of doing triathlon, cross-country running and swimming from a young age. Feeling the fittest helps me play my best.’
Quirke’s first ever England try was one of the standout moments of a pulsating Test match
By chance, Quirke’s family live on the same road as an uncle of the Brownlee brothers — Alistair and Jonny. ‘My rugby heroes were Jonny Wilkinson and Jason Robinson, but the Brownlees were my heroes in triathlon,’ he said.
‘I actually got to go to watch them on A Question of Sport a couple of times, with their uncle. I met them a few times and I got one of their tri-suits signed.’
Another by-product of being based in Chorlton is the proximity to Old Trafford, which is an appealing factor for a Manchester United fan. ‘I try to go to a few games,’ said Quirke.
‘Where I live, you can hear when someone scores at Old Trafford. But when Cristiano Ronaldo came and he scored that first goal back at United, I’ve never heard a cheer so loud. You could hear it from miles away.’
Quirke’s family live on the same street as an uncle of triathlon greats Alistair (left) and Jonny Brownlee and the England international was an age-group triathlon champion
2003 Rugby World Cup winners Jason Robinson (left) and Jonny Wilkinson were Quirke’s idols
England are blessed at half-back, where Marcus Smith and Quirke are coming to the fore at the same time, as precocious rookies who could go on to form a Test partnership for a decade. Both young men are driven and dedicated to the extreme, but Quirke also has interests outside sport. One of them is cooking.
‘I like watching Raymond Blanc, Saturday Kitchen Live, MasterChef, those kinds of things,’ he said. ‘I got given a Jamie Oliver recipe book on one of my birthdays and cooked loads from that. One of the first things I made was his green tea salmon, with really crispy skin, miso vegetables and coconut rice. I make that often.
‘I did some cooking at the academy house. We’d make loads of banana bread. Our big tighthead prop, James Harper, loved eating it with some custard.’
While he was in England camp, Quirke also set about expanding his barbershop empire. ‘I did Manu Tuilagi’s hair every week, trying to keep him fresh for the game,’ he said. ‘Look good, feel good, play good, that’s the saying! I did Freddie Steward’s right from the start as well, and George Furbank, who was my room-mate.
The England international is a Manchester United and goes to as many games as he can
‘Then the numbers started to grow. Kyle Sinckler’s barber would come in, but his cuts were a lot more expensive than mine. I charged a tenner. Sinckler’s mate was charging £40, so eventually some of the lads were saying, “Well, you’re a bit cheaper…”
‘I did Sam Simmonds before some of the games, and Jonny Hill. You get good chats with people sat in the chair and it’s something to take your mind off rugby. If you’re focusing on cutting someone’s hair, you’re not dwelling on being nervous for a game. And it’s a handy skill to have.’
After the interview, Quirke had an appointment to cut Sale director of rugby Alex Sanderson’s hair, ready to go to London to take on Saracens tomorrow. That will be a daunting club assignment and it should be followed early next year by some trips into hostile territory with England.
‘The Six Nations will be nuts,’ said Quirke. ‘We talked about it in camp. Playing away is a different kettle of fish, when you’ve got however many Scottish people who hate you, screaming at you at Murrayfield. We need to get ready for that. Hopefully, I’ll get the opportunity to be part of that.’
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