exeter-born England Saxons and Harlequins centre Matt Hopper, image courtesy and copyright phil mingo at pinnacleToday Exeter-born Matt Hopper will live the dream and step out in an England shirt in front his hometown supporters.

Tomorrow Harlequins centre Hopper celebrates his 27th birthday but the Devonian will think all his birthdays have come at once this evening if he can help send the Irish Wolfhounds packing at Sandy Park (1700).

Affable Hopper is the first to acknowledge a debt to Manly Rugby Club in Sydney for switching him from full back to centre as a teenager and help kick start his career.

He also believes the intensive full-time coaching he received at Cornish Pirates last season before his summer switch to Quins was another massive up-turn in his meteoric rise to international recognition.

Hopper admits: “I am really looking forward to getting out there, putting the England shirt on has been a dream since I was a child.”

Hopper started playing rugby as a junior for Exeter then played his first senior games as a teenager for Exeter junior side Wessex RFC.

As well as his stint in Australia for Manly, he has also played for Cardiff University and Plymouth Albion, where former Albion chief and England hooker Graham Dawe gave Hopper his first taste of Championship rugby.

“Playing for England at Exeter is the icing on the cake. I have got a lot of family and friends around and because we have been training down here all week I have managed to catch up with a few of them which is good.

“I have had a load of good luck messages all week and lots of friends and family coming to the match. I’m sure I will catch up with them after the game.

“It’s nice to come home and its’ going to be great to play in this game.”

Living the dream: Matt Hopper (portrait by phil mingo at pinnacle)

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