‘It’s frustrating when people say everyone who went to private school is posh’

If Eddie Jones was not previously aware that obsessing over class is England’s true national sport, he presumably is now.

It is a week since the Australian casually lobbed his hand grenade at the private school system, and rugby’s reliance on it, and the reverberations are still being felt. There have been public slap-downs by his employers at the RFU, and the independent school sector itself, but no hint of regret from the man himself. Anyone expecting that may be waiting some time.

Jones did not mention any specific examples but if he was searching for the epitome of a private school sporting production line, Millfield would be a pretty good starting point. The Somerset institution’s list of famous alumni is not restricted to English rugby but nevertheless reads like a who’s who of rugby talents: Sir Gareth Edwards, JPR Williams, Chris Robshaw, Mako Vunipola, Callum Sheedy and Adam Hastings have all passed through its halls.

Another name to add to the list is Josh Bayliss. The 24-year-old is one of rugby’s rising stars, having already been a stand-in captain at Bath and promoted to the Scotland senior squad, and if Millfield needed a spokesman to defend it from Jones’ barbs, they could not find a better one.

School life was important to Bayliss, hence our decision to conduct this interview while we take a tour of his alma mater. We are meeting before Jones’ public savaging of a system he believes leads to students living “closeted lives”, but his appraisal of Millfield’s role in shaping his sporting career serve as the most eloquent riposte.

“You talk about schools around the country [like Millfield] and someone says, ‘oh, everyone’s posh’. And it’s frustrating whenever you hear that. You can’t deny that the opportunity and the facilities are absolutely incredible. But the friends that I made came from such far-reaching environments, different upbringings, different cultures. It’s a massive melting pot here. You get to learn from those people and experience so much. I think it prepares you for life when you leave.

“I’d urge anyone who has those preconceptions to come and actually visit or meet someone who came to school here before they make a judgment. It’s easy just to think, ‘their parents must be really rich’, but actually there’s lots of different people here. There is always more to everyone’s story.”

Bayliss certainly threw himself into Millfield life, playing hockey and cricket, as well as representing the school in triple jump.


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