Isiekwe on England, Saracens and preparing for exams
PUBLISHED: 08:00 04 May 2015
The next two years will be the most important in the fledgling career of Nick Isiekwe as he tries to earn a professional contract with Aviva Premiership giants Saracens.
Isiekwe (pronounced Ee-Zee-Kway) currently splits his time between Saracens Junior Academy and England duty, and is viewed nationally as one of the country’s hottest prospects at second row.
His rare combination of size, speed and power was put on full display earlier this year when Saracens edged Northampton Saints to the Aviva Premiership Academy League trophy.
In fact, in a World Cup year, the 16-year-old could be thrust into Saracens’ LV=Cup squad, the club’s testing ground for talent, due to the fixture build up created by rugby’s biggest event.
His own international duty could be a distraction– Isiekwe has recently been called up to the U18 side – but his main focus will be on Saracens and doing everything in his power to earn a contract.
“Saracens is what I’m directing my focus on to,” he told the Herts Ad. “That’s the club I’m at and the one that has given me the opportunities I have had – I wouldn’t be representing England if it wasn’t for Saracens. For that I will always be loyal and grateful.”
He added: “If I keep working and pushing on then there’s no reason I can’t [earn a contract] but, at the end of the day, it’s all about the club and what they need. Hopefully I can be what they want.
“If I keep working and improving with them, hopefully the England stuff with come.”
Isiekwe’s path from a six-year-old starting playing tag rugby to international prospect at one the England’s biggest club’s started at Verulamians.
One of four children to Michael, a director of a security firm, and Ruth, Isiekwe’s first taste of rugby came when his mum wanted him to play sport.
“At the time, his cousin started playing tag rugby at OVs and I said it would nice to get Nicholas into it,” said Ruth. “It escalated from there.”
Escalated is an understatement. Not only did Isiekwe move from centre to prop as he literally outgrew the positions before settling at second row, but his obvious talent was starting to get attention.
Old Albanian came knocking when he reached 13 and put him in their C team. In that same year, Isiekwe was invited to trials for Saracens. After a six week programme, he was in Wales playing Ospreys and he was hooked.
“You get a chance to be physical. I think I’m quite a nice person outside of rugby but when it comes to playing, you can let loose and hit someone,” he beams.
Fast forward three years and he was standing in Wellington playing for England U16 after impressing his coaches at the annual proving grounds for the nation’s potential talent.
Looking at all 6’7 plus of Isiekwe, it’s easy to forget he is only 16 years old and has all the stresses every other teenager has, as well as those that come with playing for Saracens and trying to earn a contract.
This year, he takes a mix of GCSE and As level exams at Haileybury, where he was offered a rugby scholarship, following his education at Nicholas Breakspear, a school he believes helped form him, despite the bad press currently surrounding it.
It’s a lot of pressure for anyone, but Isiekwe is taking it in his stride.
“The exams are quite daunting but they come around often enough that I get used to them. I’m looking forward to getting them out of the way and then hopefully celebrating on results day,” he said. “As long as you prepare then you should be ok.”
It’s the same answer he gave to the way he attacks each and every game of rugby, whether it’s for England, Saracens or Haileybury.
“As long as you know what you’re doing, you thrive in the environment,” he said. “It’s nerve racking but at Saracens there’s a big impetus on being together. I want to do my job for the benefit of the team. For me, that’s the dirty work and, at the end of the day, I like winning so that’s what I like doing.”
That attitude comes from Saracens, says Isiekwe, who admitted he is enjoying his rugby a lot more since the club changed his junior academy coaches and Ian Vass, Don Barrell, Rory Teague, James Tirrell. Dan Nisbet and Sean Vine came in.
“Last season, with new management, pushed me on tenfold. They put impetus into every player and pushed us. It’s really good and the set up is amazing – I don’t think another club has a set up quite like Saracens,” he said.
“Before, I felt it was quite pressured. We had to perform well and keep improving. Now it’s about gradual improvements – they won’t push you as hard to improve but they’ll push you in term of working hard on the pitch and making sure skills are good.
“It feels like the pressures in terms to performing well has decreased but we still have to work hard. It’s enjoyable now, the atmosphere around the club and the people there. Before, I didn’t get as much enjoyment. I feel like I’m enjoying it and I can improve because of that. It’s a good facilitating environment to be in.”
It also helps that Isiekwe’s talent is being fostered in the presence of world-class players who he can aspire to. He says Saracens’ Jim Hamilton, the Scotland international, and George Kruiss are excellent role models, as is Maro Itoje, the 20-year-old lock forward who looks certain to break into Stuart Lancaster’s England side in the near future.
He can also lean on former British and Irish Lion and Grand Slam-winning Wales captain Michael Owen, the director of rugby at Haileybury. “He’s a big name in the sport and to have him as a coach at school is amazing,” he said. “It’s a nice person to look to emulate, improve from and get all the knowledge he has.”
With so much pulling in his favour, Isiekwe doesn’t struggle for motivation to juggle schoolwork and rugby.
“When it comes to rugby, the motivation comes from how much I love it and want to do it when I’m older,” he said. “Being around the club and people you meet, it doesn’t feel like work; it’s doing something I enjoy.
“It comes from wanting to be at the top and, in academics, the chance to go on to university and after rugby, even if it doesn’t work out, having something [to fall back on].”
Rugby is where Isiekwe hopes his future lies although he recognises the importance of the exams and revision that will become a large part of his life over the next year.
In between all of that, he will be trying with every sinew in his body to persuade Saracens to give him a contract.
“This year, I do my exams and then I have a pre-season block that will be intense as I work towards next season. Next year, hopefully we’ll retain the [Academy title].
“At the end of my academy year, that’s where contract talks will hopefully take place. Hopefully it’s good news.”