- Uzokwe secures second stint with England Students
- England Students play Ireland Universities on Sunday
Simon Uzokwe’s career was at a turning point. After having started his rugby life at Ipswich School, his career had gone from strength to strength, culminating with his entry into the Northampton Saints youth system.
But after his graduation, having spent three years with Northampton, Uzokwe was not offered a professional contract.
The 18-year-old responded by devoting himself to forging another path into rugby - and his hard work has been rewarded.
He enrolled at Sunderland University and simultaneously began playing for National League One side Darlington Mowden Park, and in 2016 attracted the attention of Newcastle Falcons, who signed him to a pro contract. “Putting on the shirt for the first time was a really proud moment.”
“It was just about working hard to get back into it,” Uzokwe admitted. “It meant a lot to get the contract with Newcastle. It’s been a long old journey.”
Uzokwe will continue on playing with Darlington until after he finishes his degree at Sunderland, after which he will join Newcastle and look to make an impact with them.
Head of the class
It’s at university that Uzokwe has achieved his other major success, as last year he was selected to represent England Students against their French and Irish counterparts.
But Uzokwe considers himself fortunate to be identified as a university star, as his Sunderland club is not one of the elite sides in the country - in fact, this season Sunderland were relegated down to the sixth tier of BUCS rugby.
“It’s quite interesting really; it’s a real contrast from what I’m used to,” Uzokwe said. “Playing with Darlington and with Newcastle, it’s obviously high pressure, top end of the spectrum.
Whereas the Sunderland boys are just a bunch of lads at uni who want to play for fun. Yes, they want to win but it’s not that high pressure environment.”
Great win by @MowdenPark today! Chuffed to get on the score sheet too— Simon Uzokwe (@SUzokwe) January 14, 2017
Uzokwe credited his first selection for England Students to his time at Darlington, as the club were training once a month with Durham University - coached by then-assistant manager of England Students, Paul Baty.
“I think with Paul being the Durham manager, he was aware that I was a student, so I was speaking to other guys and they said ‘you might as well get yourself nominated and see what happens, because you’re a student.’
Baty is now manager of England Students and Uzokwe has remained on the programme’s radar after his appearances in both of last year’s fixtures.
“Best way to the pro game”
Uzokwe is enthusiastic to be back, as representing his country isn’t something that he’s used to doing.
“It’s really special for me because I never played for England U16, U18 or U20, so England Students is my first representative appearance,” Uzokwe said. “Putting on the shirt for the first time was a really proud moment.”
“All the lads in the England Students programme will graduate with a degree. Hopefully, those that want to get into the professional game, but we’ve got our lives sorted, because we’ve got our degrees to fall back on, so I think it’s a pretty good route.”
England Students will play Ireland Universities at 2:30 on Sunday in Oxford, before hosting the French Students in Bristol on Friday, 7 April.