- England host Italy on Friday in Darlington
- England U20 have won their opening two games
- Read Nick Isiekwe's full biography
“The amount of work Maro puts in every day is incredible, it’s inspiring. If anyone can emulate his work rate then they will do themselves proud, it spurs you on and shows it is possible.”
As mentors go, Nick Isiekwe has some pretty special ones.
An international veteran, an established senior professional and the World Rugby breakthrough player of the year – also known as Jim Hamilton, George Kruis and Maro Itoje.
And if England U20’s forward Isiekwe needs any inspiration of how quickly life can change then he need only look at the amazing rise through the ranks of fellow Saracens lock Itoje who has firmly established himself in the senior side at the age of 22.
“All of the second row forwards at Saracens are very good,” said Isiekwe.
“Jim, George and Maro are very understanding. They were coming through at one point and have had their own struggles.
“If I ever have any questions or concerns they are always willing to answer or help and give me their knowledge. Even things off the pitch they will give me guidance.”
Itoje himself was playing U20 rugby for England just three years ago and Isiekwe admits he is an “inspiring” presence.
“The amount of work Maro puts in every day is incredible, it’s inspiring,” he said. “If anyone can emulate his work rate then they will do themselves proud, it spurs you on and shows it is possible.”
While England U20 have been scoring tries galore, Isiekwe and his fellow second-row partners Justin Clegg and Jack Nay have been quietly going about their business in the ‘engine room’.
The 18-year-old, 6ft 5in, 17st 7Ib forward has played all 160 minutes of England’s opening two victories in this year’s Six Nations as they prepare to play Italy in Darlington on Friday.
A post-match hot dog
Isiekwe arrived at Saracens via Old Albanians having been tempted into the sport as a child by the promise of a post-game hot dog.
“I was lazing around one Saturday evening and my mum told me to join my cousins at Old Verulamians and play touch rugby,” he said.
“I thought I’d be done with it within a week so I went down, got stuck in, got the hot dog afterwards and enjoyed it.”
At the age of 13, he joined Old Albanians and then Saracens invited him for trials on a “talent identification day” and he has been there ever since.
A sense of pride
He played for England U16 in the wins over Wales and Scotland in 2014 and a swift climb brought him three appearances in the 2015 Rugby Europe U18 Championship in France in March and April. He also played for England U17 against France the following year.
“It was incredible, special, you can’t really describe the feeling,” he said of his England debut. "You are nervous and anxious for the game..."
“It was England U16 against Scotland. I only touched the ball once but it was incredible. What made it so special was that all of my family were there and my friends.”
He also recalls the first time he sang the national anthem in England colours, adding: “It was all such a blur, you are nervous and anxious for the game but you get a sense of being proud.
“It was special, I saw my mum crying but you have to remember about the match and switch into game mode.”
Born in Hemel Hempstead, Isiekwe has captained Hertfordshire U16 and Saracens U17, has been involved in athletics and represented his native county in the discus.
Educated at Haileybury College in Hertfordshire, he had previously attended Mandeville Primary School and Nicholas Breakspear Catholic School.
Isiekwe hopes to go to university next year, but in the meantime is busy learning his trade for club and country and he hopes his influence can help deliver further success for England’s U20 squad.
“I like to bring some energy and motivate the boys,” he said.
“I think this team can be very special, if we continue to work hard, we could be very good. Hopefully it will continue.
“This is a new squad, the boys have come together really well, we have our own ambitions and goals and if we continue to work hard we can reach our aspirations.”
Watch England U20 take on Italy U20 this Friday, on Sky Sports Mix. Kick off at 19:30.