When Max Malins’s mother, Amanda, was cleaning up the house last week, she came across a dusty family photo album.
“She ordered a container to come by for a big clean-up,” says Malins. ‘She found this picture of me when I was seven with a full England rugby gear. She sent it to me on the phone saying ‘How cute were you?’. I thought of answering, “What has changed!”
‘I spent a lot of time in the garden pretending to be Jonny Wilkinson or Rafa Nadal. Whenever they asked at school what you wanted to be when you grew up, I always said ‘top athlete’, whatever sport that may be. ‘
Max Malins in England has always wanted to become a professional athlete, regardless of sport
The baby-faced killer in England was one of the top achievers in the sport and excelled at cricket and hockey.
“I always wore some kind of sports equipment,” he adds. ‘I’m one of four siblings, so there was usually something going on. Football, golf, cricket, tennis. My mom is a riding teacher so we all tried it from a young age. We also played a little squash. In the end, I had to make a decision and put all my eggs in one basket. ‘
In his late teens, Malins was picked up by the Saracen academy and quickly moved up the ranks. He was England captain by age group level and before he knew it, he was doing pedaling exercises himself with Wilkinson.
During his breakthrough season with Saracens in 2019/20, Malins delivered stylish, playful screenings at No. 10 and fullback. Mark McCall, Sarries ‘understated director of rugby, even compared him to All Blacks’ World Player of the Year, Beauden Barrett.
While with Saracens Malins was compared to New Zealand racing half Beauden Barrett
“I got so much s *** for that comment at training on Monday,” laughs Malins. Everyone called me ‘Beaudy’. Mark really laughed and apologized. It came up in his head, he said it and it blew up a little bit! Obviously it’s nice to be compared to someone like Beauden Barrett, but unless I push it, it doesn’t mean anything. I like the offensive play he brings from fullback and 10. I like the idea of being able to play both positions. Damian McKenzie is a similar player. I like their playing style, but in the end I have to be my own player. ‘
As a relative newcomer to the big stage, Malins is still establishing his playing identity. Saracens’ relegation to the championship led to him and teammate Ben Earl moving to Bristol on loan. The couple share a flat in Clifton and when Malins isn’t taking courses for a business management degree, there’s usually some form of sport on the living room TV. Malins’ preference is for Lionel Messi.
“I only stream matches from Barcelona to see what he does on a field,” says Malins. ‘I have no idea of the comment. Sometimes it’s in Arabic, so I’ll just mute it! We watched the Supercopa final against Athletic Bilbao last week. It wasn’t a great one as they lost and Messi got his first red card in extra time.
But he’s an absolute genius of a footballer. His vision … Before he even gets the ball, he’s looking everywhere. He already knows where the defense is and where he wants to play his next pass.
Malins studies and takes inspiration from Barcelona and Argentina superstar Lionel Messi
As a full back and a No. 10, vision is such a big part of the game. If your vision is good, opportunities will come. In the back field of the rugby field, you can quickly glance when the ball is in the air and see what the defense looks like before you catch the ball. That’s the kind of thing you can learn. ‘
Malins has benefited from a broad sports education. He has had to adapt to different playing styles in his different teams. With Saracens and England he has gone through a school of stairs and territory, while in Bristol the emphasis is on open field running. So far he has taken both in his steps.
“They are very different philosophies,” he explains. Different ways you see control: Bristol sees control as control over the ball, while England is more about control over territory. The English style is more like the Sarries style so that didn’t really come as a shock to me. Coming to Bristol was probably more unusual for me because I hadn’t played like this before, where you keep the ball and play in your own half.
Malins feels he has experience with different styles of rugby because of his upbringing with Saracens
‘I enjoy both. My time in Bristol so far has been more than I expected. We probably got more than we expected, we got in early and were able to win the Challenge Cup final. It’s a great group and a great facility. I got my first call up for England after playing for the Bears. ‘
For the next few weeks, Malins will focus exclusively on England. He was named in Eddie Jones’ roster on Friday – alongside Earl and fellow Bristol teammate Harry Randall – and will join the team next week. He made three appearances from the bench during the Autumn Nations Cup, but now his sights are set on a first start.
“We were all added to the Six Nations group chat on Friday,” he says. When you see your name, there is still the same tremendous excitement. There was relief too, as I’ve had a minor knee injury that could have worked against me.
‘This will be my second time now, so I really want to put my foot on the ground and make my mark. All my hats have been off the couch so far. I will train to the best of my ability and hopefully, if selected, make a start. In the end, I love to wear the shirt. ‘