FROM grafting alongside part-timers on Cae Canol to working with superstars at Bristol, the dream of being a rugby professional has become a reality for Toby Fricker.

Last summer the 24-year-old was preparing for the Principality Premiership campaign with Ebbw Vale, now he is gearing up for a season in the Gallagher Premiership with the Bears.

Fricker's exploits with the Steelmen led to Bristol boss Pat Lam taking a punt on the Welsh-qualified Londoner in March.

The wing, who studied in Bristol, linked up with the club immediately so that he could get a taste of life as a pro, an ambition that was accomplished with the assistance of the Steelmen.

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"It was the dream and luckily for me it has become my reality," said Fricker, who was named as Premiership newcomer of the year in 2018 and played for Wales in Rugby Europe Sevens.

"I always wanted to play at a level like this but there was never a time when I was in deepest south Wales with the Ebbw boys that I thought I would be training with Bristol Bears now with players like Steve Luatua and Charles Piutau.

"It's pretty incredible and I am very lucky and privileged to be here, and it was Ebbw Vale that gave me the platform to get here.

"The character-building from playing there was incredible and you get some real talent in that league, even though everyone knows it is underfunded.

"You learn a lot from each individual, from the tradesmen that get up at 5am to go to work, then put in so many hours before doing a two-hour training session in the evenings, then going home to their families, then get up at 5am to go to work again.

"That commitment has left an impression on me."

It wasn't just the Steelmen's brickies and labourers that had total commitment – after Fricker earned his shot at Bristol he was praised by Ebbw head coach Greg Woods.


Workaholic Fricker tipped to be a Bristol hit

"Toby trains hard," said Woods. "He travelled the furthest but never missed a session, even when I gave him a week off because of that distance.

"I'd tell him to stay at home and train at a local gym, but he would always come up to Ebbw Vale and that says a lot about his desire to get better."

That appetite for graft came from his hunger to earn a crack as a full-timer after the Steelmen were alerted to a player who had impressed for Welsh Academicals.

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Fricker said: "Darren Venn (team manager) asked me to come down for a chat and I thought 'how far could the journey to Ebbw from Bristol be?'. It turns out it's quite a long distance!

"There was a lot of thinking time in the car, a bit too much maybe, but it was a nice switch-off from my studies. I had the focus to get a professional contract, so there was no point in doing things half-heartedly."

Ebbw officials harboured hopes that a region would come in for Fricker but the chaos surrounding Project Reset meant Bristol moved first for the winger from Clapham with a father from Builth Wells.

"My dad is firmly Welsh and that rubbed off on me," he said. "When I was younger I supported Wales but I realised from going up to Ebbw Vale how Welsh I really was after growing up as a London boy!

"I loved playing there and my dad loved me playing in Wales, although he was more than thrilled when I got the contract at Bristol."

Fricker was a try scorer in the Bears' pre-season defeat to Castres in France a fortnight ago and is relishing the chance to develop his game.

"It's going well, I am really enjoying it," he said. "It has been a massive step up and change but it's exciting and I am learning lots every day.

"Last season it was all about me getting a feel for things and getting to know everyone so that I could hit pre-season running.

"When I first came in it was quite overwhelming, but I have got my head around that and got a bit more confidence, even though I have still got a long way to go.

"I want to play at the highest level and be the best player I can, so it's up to me to learn as much as possible because I have got the coaches here to help me do that – everything is analysed and scrutinised.

"There are a bunch of things on the list that they want me to improve on but mainly at the moment it is about general skills, positioning. That comes with repetitions and leads to you having more confidence.

"The biggest step up is the speed, how quickly the game moves and the skills side of things that comes with that."

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The World Cup means that the start of the league season has been pushed back with clubs filling the void with the Premiership Rugby Cup, a competition likely to give Fricker a shot.

The dream is to be in contention for the first game proper – a mouth-watering derby against Bath at Ashton Gate on Friday, October 18 – with Fricker knowing he has to be ready if needed.

"I would love to play in that opener and would love to play as many games as I can this season, but there is a huge amount of competition here and some unbelievable players," he said.

"I wouldn't be arrogant enough to say that I am going to be playing in that opening game or believe that I have got a really strong chance, but the best that I can do is to make sure I am prepared if I am needed to play in it.

"I have a lot to learn, and I am learning fast, but lots of things can happen in rugby. If I am thrown in at the deep end the main thing is that I know what I am doing and have confidence in my ability, because this is just the start for me."