sport news Bristol lock Joe Batley on beating cancer and the long road to his Premiership ...

For any professional rugby player, making your Premiership debut is a special moment.

For Joe Batley, it carried more significance than most.

The second row spent 80 minutes ferociously battling for Bristol Bears in their 36-26 defeat by Harlequins at Twickenham Stoop.

Joe Batley fought back from Hodgkin Lymphoma to make his Premiership debut for Bristol

Joe Batley fought back from Hodgkin Lymphoma to make his Premiership debut for Bristol

Yet, less than a year previously, he faced an even tougher challenge. 

The 22-year-old  was first diagnosed with Hodgkin Lymphoma in March 2018, and the chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment left him barely able to walk.

The disease, which attacks the lymphatic system, was in remission by June, and Batley admits there were many dark moments on the road to recovery - but points to the support he received from across the rugby world as crucial.

He said: ‘In the early days the little wins were massive. Just getting out of the house for a few minutes to have a little walk was a boost to prepare me for the end of the week. By then I would try to do a small gym session or a longer walk.

'There were tough times when it felt like it was going to be impossible to get out of bed.

'Because of the support and the motivation behind it all, the little walk or getting up made it so much sweeter by the end of the day so I knew it was going to be okay and I knew by the end of the week would be feeling better.’

Batley's top-level debut is the culmination of years of hard work at both Gloucester and Bristol

Batley's top-level debut is the culmination of years of hard work at both Gloucester and Bristol

Having risen through the ranks at Gloucester, the Portsmouth native left the club in 2017 to join then-Championship Bristol for more first-team opportunities.

He was a second-tier regular until his diagnosis as they won promotion, Batley was forced to wait for his chance at the highest level. 

However, for Batley - who also started Friday's win over Gloucester - the years of training preparation kicked in once he walked out at the Stoop.

He admitted it was only when he saw his family post-match that the achievement hit him. 

‘When I stepped out I wasn’t really thinking anything, I felt like I was ready. I wanted it I knew the jobs I had to do in the game I knew what I wanted to achieve out of it and I understood the game plan.

‘It was more when I finished that all the emotion hit me and I realised I done it. I was pretty tired physically and emotionally I was all over the place.

‘When I saw my mum and dad they were so happy for me and that was when the emotion hit and I understood I’ve finally achieved what I set out to do when I was 6 years old and I told my mum I wanted to be professional

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