Exclusive: Rugby star Sam Stanley hits back at criticism surrounding his engagement

 Former professional rugby player Sam Stanley announced his engagement to his long-term partner over the weekend. The player, 25, took to Facebook to reveal that he is getting married to his boyfriend, Laurence Hicks, but the couple's age-gap left them facing criticism from people who didn't understand. We got in touch with Sam, and he opened up about how he fell in love with Laurence, his coming out, and what's in store for the couple's future.
Congrats on getting engaged! You mentioned you've known your partner for seven years - when did you realise he was the one?
For me I fell in love with Laurence very quickly. I'd never had the feelings I felt for him before. It was pretty amazing and I'm incredibly lucky to have met him and call him my finacè. How did you first meet?   We first met online on a site called silverdaddies.com I mean I was never going to be seen out on the scene as I was so far in the closet at the time.

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There's been some criticism on social media from people in regards to the age-gap - what's your response to people who don't understand that love comes in all different forms?  I'm sure as everyone knows, you're not doing anything right if you're not getting criticised in this world. Laurence & I love each other and to us that's all that matters. We're proud to represent the many relationships like ours. Who proposed and how did it happen? Laurence proposed to me on our top terrace in Sicily over Easter. The views up there are stunning and as he said at the time, what better place to do it than the place we'll be building a new life together. You bravely came out back in 2015 - did you get the reaction you expected? That's right I did an interview with rugby correspondent for the Sunday Times, Stephen Jones. I guess I didn't really know what to expect but the support at the time was incredible from fellow professionals to my school mates I grew up with. It made things a bit easier on my parents too. It's still tough for high profile men in sport to come out as gay. Why you think so many players choose to remain in the closet?  It's a difficult subject as everyone has a unique story and no body knows what they've been through or are going through. There should never be any pressure for people to do so and the stories I've seen about two footballers 'coming out' etc just pressurises them. If they're truly ready to tell the world then great but if not then so be it.

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What made you decide to be open about your sexuality?  The main thing for me was realising I wasn't changing and this is who I am. I tried hard at pretending to be straight mainly to fit in and not be different. But then being different is great! Really it just happened because I stopped thinking to myself about when the right time was etc worrying about everyone else except myself. England Rugby's World Cup Winner, Ben Cohen was incredibly helpful and I sat down with him and he gave me some great advice. It made me realise it could be helpful for thousands of people and sportsman going through similar. To contradict what I've said above, more sportspeople, in teams particularly, would be a real help in continuing to pave the way for youngsters etc that may want to pursue a career in professional sports but happen to be gay..... No pressure :) What does the future hold for you and your fiance - are there children in your future?  Laurence & I have decided to move to Sicily together. We're moving May 8th so very soon. Laurence has a few travel projects he's working on and I'm taking over a gym. As far as children go we have spoken a bit on the subject and I'd love to have kids. But for now I think we need to focus on our new projects and me on my Italian. All I've ever known is rugby so I'm looking forward to a new challenge.