A combination of hard work and mental toughness has propelled James Fitzpatrick from fringe figure to first-team regular at Newcastle Falcons, but the South Shields native just wants to keep on learning.
An upward curve which had taken the former truck mechanic from local club Westoe to Blaydon and then on to Kingston Park looked to have reached its plateau last season when the hard-hitting centre found himself on the periphery of the club’s RFU Championship-winning party.
A move to the Championship had been a possibility before injury to Samoan centre Jamie Helleur in the opening moments of the Premiership season and the retirement of Tane Tu’ipulotu opened the door - not that he is taking selection for granted ahead of tomorrow’s trip to Worcester Warriors.
“It was disappointing not to play much last year, but the main thing was the team winning games and getting promoted back into the Premiership,” said the 26-year-old, who has shown a remarkable upturn on his personal skills.
“My approach has just been to take pre-season as a totally fresh new start, working on the areas where I know I need to improve.
“I have put the graft in, and luckily I have got my chance.
“You don’t want a team-mate to get injured, but you have to be ready to step in when needed.
“Hopefully, I have impressed the coachesand that is why I have been picked the past few weeks.”
Looking to rectify the weaknesses in his game during a summer of improvement, Fitzpatrick added: “Ball-handling and defence have been the main areas and general decision-making.
“My stronger points are things like ball-carrying, but it is what I do after that which I have been working on, in terms of whether to offload, pass, hold on to it or whatever.
“It has helped me massively.
“It is not so much that you haven’t got it, it is just improving and making the most out of what you do have.
“We call it work-ons, rather than focusing on a negative, and for me the whole thing has been training with the ball.
“If it hits the ground in training then so be it, and getting it right for the games is the main thing It is all about learning, enjoying doing my skills work and being comfortable with the ball in my hand.”
In no doubt as to what is required by the management, the centre added: “I have learnt a lot playing under Dean Richards, as our director of rugby.
“The good thing is he lets you know exactly what he wants from you, and if you don’t do it he let’s you know as well!
“Everyone knows their jobs, the coaches have made it nice and simple and hopefully that can translate into results for us as the season goes on.”
Confident his side can put daylight between themselves and fellow strugglers Worcester tomorrow, he said: “All the pressure will be on them.
“They know they will be in trouble if we beat them down there.
“They will be targeting Newcastle at home as being a win, but we will go down there, throw the ball about and hopefully do the job.
“Once they are under pressure they might try things they are not used to doing, and we can take advantage of that.
“I love the physical side of rugby, and with the way Worcester play I would expect there to be plenty of that tomorrow. Hopefully, I can knock them back.”