Hill starting to hit the heights again at Saints

When Paul Hill arrived at Saints during the summer of 2015, he was seen as the most promising tighthead prop in England.
Paul HillPaul Hill
Paul Hill

He had made his professional debut for Yorkshire Carnegie and represented his country at Under-17s, Under-18s, Under-19s and Under-20s level.

Hill had taken part in two Junior World Championship finals, including England Under-20s' 21-20 win over South Africa in 2014.

And he hit the ground running at Saints, earning a call-up to England's senior squad just three months after making his Premiership debut against Worcester Warriors in October 2015.

Hill made his England debut against Italy in Rome during the 2016 Six Nations and looked set to become a staple feature of the front row for club and country for years to come.

But injuries and Saints' struggles really started to hamper the talented prop, whose ability in the loose had really shone through in previous times.

Hill did go on England's summer tour of Australia in 2016, but the following couple of seasons were far from easy for anyone at Franklin's Gardens as Saints, Premiership champions in 2014, slipped out of the top-four reckoning.

Hill earned just six starts in 2016/17 and only five in 2017/18 as his star started to fall.

But since the arrival of Chris Boyd during the summer of 2018, he believes he had been able to find his feet again.

And that was emphasised by the fact the club recently offered him a new deal, which he was delighted to accept.

"I'm really happy with the decision to stay," Hill said.

"It was on the back of playing a few games and just being happy with where I am at the club.

"I've been feeling I'm on an upwards trajectory in my rugby again.

"I've worked with the coaches here last year and this season so far and I felt I could definitely keep going.

"There are coaches around me and players around me that help me and I really want to capitalise on it.

"I feel in a good space and I'm happy to keep pushing on."

Looking back on his Saints stay so far, Hill said: "I've been here five years and there have been ups and downs.

"I made the England squad when I first came in but I picked up a few bad injuries and didn't have a great performance a couple of years ago.

"I felt like last year under Boydy I found my feet again and this year I feel like I'm getting back to where I want to be.

"I do feel I'm on the up with it all."

Hill is not one to make excuses, but there is no doubt that he has suffered untimely injuries during his Saints career so far.

"Injury is one of those things where you can't predict them and there's not much you can do once you've got them," said the Germany-born prop, who turned 25 earlier this month.

"I've had a neck injury, a shoulder injury and a few other bits and bobs along the way, but I don't know many rugby players who have a career without picking up stuff.

"You've just got to accept it and get on with it.

"I've missed important tours with them and it's frustrating but you've just got to accept it.

"At the moment, I'm injury free and hopefully I can keep it that way.

"I want to keep using the game time I'm getting and I understand that when you're injury free, it's a luxury.

"I can say there is more to come from me."

Hill was again handed a start for Saints at Sixways last Friday night, keeping double World Cup winner Owen Franks on the bench.

And he said: "For me, it's about getting a good run of games together without picking up small injuries and missing a game.

"Game fitness applies not just with the physical side but with the performance side.

"Instead of having two or three games on the bounce, having six or seven games on the bounce helps you to build momentum and it carries over.

"That's what I want to get this year."

Hill started 16 games last year, coming off the bench in a further four.

He has also started more times than he has been a replacement this season, racking up nine first-15 appearances and eight as a replacement.

And there is no doubt that the presence of former New Zealand star Franks is having a huge effect on him.

"We've got a really good group as a whole and with Fergie (Saints assistant coach Matt Ferguson) and the Franks brothers, we've got a really good bank of knowledge that the whole group can draw from," Hill said.

"It benefits everyone when you have different people with different experience in the group and the whole front row has profited from it.

"We've got Alex Waller, who I think it a founder of the club, and we've got a good front row.

"We're working together well."

Hill clearly couldn't be happier with life at Saints right now.

And he is delighted to have his future sorted at a club and with a group of players he has huge affection for.

"The club speaks for itself," he said.

"The fan base is enormous and the playing group we've got is a massive selling point.

"If you asked any player here, they'd say we've got a very tight-knit group of players and people from all age groups.

"We bond well and it's a massive part of the club."