Rugby’s man moun­tain Meet Pre­mier­ship’s heav­i­est player

The young Worces­ter War­riors prop tells Char­lie Mor­gan there is more to him than be­ing the heav­i­est player in Pre­mier­ship his­tory

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Front Page -

Gary Gold, the Worces­ter War­riors di­rec­tor of rugby, speaks with com­pelling in­ten­sity, his Cape Town tones clear and con­vinc­ing. But his man­ner can­not pre­vent a slight dou­ble-take as he de­scribes Biyi Alo as “a baby”.

Alo is, af­ter all, the heav­i­est player in the his­tory of the Pre­mier­ship, hav­ing been listed on his club’s web­site as 143kg this sum­mer. He in­sists he has now shed four ki­los, to put him just be­hind Sara­cens’ Will Skelton, but, ei­ther way, there is no es­cap­ing the fact that this is one hulk­ing prop. Ap­pro­pri­ately enough, he has ar­rived at this in­ter­view di­rect from a team out­ing to Nando’s. What did he have? “Stan­dard chicken, two sides,” comes the an­swer.

Alo is, how­ever, keen to point out that there is more to him than just his bulk, and in Gold he has a coach who is happy to look be­yond his in­tim­i­dat­ing frame. Ac­cord­ing to him, Alo, 23, has a good deal of de­vel­op­ment to come and will be “ma­tur­ing as a tight­head” for at least two more sea­sons.

For­tu­nately, for Gold and for Worces­ter, Alo is both aware of the long-term ed­u­ca­tion ahead and rel­ish­ing the im­me­di­ate fight for Pre­mier­ship re­sults.

Last Sun­day’s 24-10 de­feat by Wasps, which he joined af­ter just 24 sec­onds fol­low­ing a nasty an­kle in­jury to Nick Schon­ert, pro­vided a snap­shot of how tough it will be to at­tain both goals.

“I thought peo­ple were play­ing a joke,” ad­mits Alo. “I hadn’t ac­tu­ally sat down. I was about to tighten my studs, then sit, chill, watch the first half. Then I had to run on. You are told to ex­pect the un­ex­pected, though. I wasn’t ner­vous or wor­ried. I was more ex­cited. What­ever I was go­ing to try to do in the last 20 min­utes, I had the chance to repli­cate over the en­tire game.”

Of Alo’s 14 Pre­mier­ship ap­pear­ances, all but three have come from the bench. From there, he likes to study scrums and ar­rive in the fi­nal quar­ter “ag­gres­sive, an­gry and want­ing to tear into the game”. Last week­end was dif­fer­ent. Alo lasted an hour be­fore Ryan Bower, Worces­ter’s start­ing loose­head, switched sides to re­lieve him. The score was 10-10. Alo had de­fended well, mak­ing one mus­cu­lar hit that sent Ash­ley John­son sprawl­ing.

He also scored a first-half try, the third of his 13-match War­riors ca­reer. His ac­count of a ro­bust pick-and-go, with a roll to fin­ish, is amus­ingly self-dep­re­cat­ing.

“They’ve prob­a­bly been from a com­bined dis­tance of about six me­tres,” Alo says, mak­ing light of his im­pres­sive strike-rate. “We train that a lot. We call it the ‘gold zone’. A guy like me, at my size, that’s where I get to use it. I don’t know where the roll came from… I must have seen it in a movie.”

Alo also con­ceded four scrum penal­ties thanks to the nous of Wasps loose­head Si­mon Mcin­tyre, on his 88th Pre­mier­ship out­ing. Gold, part of South Africa’s staff for the 2009 Bri­tish and Ir­ish Li­ons tour, of­fers Phil Vick­ery’s fa­mous ca­pit­u­la­tion against Tendai Mtawarira as ev­i­dence of how such set­backs are oc­cu­pa­tional haz­ards. Alo is ea­ger to keep gath­er­ing knowl­edge.

“My set-piece is a con­stant work-on,” he says. “Around the park, I’m good at col­li­sions and read the game well. I back my­self phys­i­cally. It’s in­ter­est­ing. When you’re very young, you see these old guys [other props] walk­ing around. They don’t look like the most amaz­ing ath­letes. You think: ‘What is it they’re do­ing in the scrum?’ Then you learn more.

“You re­alise it’s not all about ath­leti­cism. It’s not even about who’s the strong­est. You can have the big­gest bench press, the big­gest squat. With ter­ri­ble tech­nique, you’ll get marched back 10 me­tres. It’s about boxing smart. You’ve got to feel out your op­po­nent.

“The scrum is the most con­fronta­tional part of the game. In that sense it is a bat­tle. But you can’t go off on your own agenda and make it ‘you v him’. You learn quickly to drop your ego and work as an eight.”

If London-born Alo had any ego to drop, there is lit­tle trace of it re­main­ing. He signed a per­ma­nent deal with Worces­ter in Jan­uary, six months af­ter ar­riv­ing from from Sara­cens as in­jury cover. That ended a long as­so­ci­a­tion with his acad­emy club and meant leav­ing a tight group of con­tem­po­raries – in­clud­ing close friend Maro Itoje – who came through the Eng­land age-grades to win the 2014 Ju­nior World Cham­pi­onship.

At Sixways, he en­joys con­struc­tive chats with for­mer Wales in­ter­na­tional Mefin Davies. Al­though only 2½ years older than Alo, the highly-rated Schon­ert has proven a fine men­tor.

Two losses mean Worces­ter are bot­tom. Schon­ert’s in­jury has left Gold – who likens tight­heads to “hen’s teeth” – pon­der­ing emer­gency re­cruit­ment.

How­ever, Alo has been en­trusted to start against Ex­eter tonight, a dif­fi­cult test that will ac­cel­er­ate his growth.

Another con­cern for fledg­ling front-row­ers is sheer mass. Alo, who stands a frac­tion un­der 6ft 2in, is in­sight­ful on the topic.

“It’s an eye-opener for young props be­cause when you get to this level, you might have to sac­ri­fice dif­fer­ent parts of your game to be a more ef­fi­cient scrum­mager. Per­son­ally, I’ve never been chas­ing up to a weight tar­get. I’ve had more than enough, which shows in my car­ry­ing and de­fence.

“Losing a bit won’t be too detri­men­tal be­cause there are play­ers who scrum­mage well at weights lighter than me – Sharky [Schon­ert] and Dan Cole, for ex­am­ple. I’ll sit down with coaches af­ter a game. They might say: ‘Look, you need to be quicker off the ground here’. Ob­vi­ously, hav­ing less ex­cess weight will help me do that. If I’m at this weight and I’m fly­ing around the pitch, I’m sure they’ll be fine. It’s about ef­fi­ciency.”

Af­ter fac­ing the cham­pi­ons, Worces­ter travel to Glouces­ter and Bath ei­ther side of a trip to Sara­cens. Gold puts it this way: “As the pres­sure gets harder, you ei­ther be­come a di­a­mond or, if you are a piece of glass, you crack.”

Should Alo thrive, Worces­ter will have an enor­mous jewel on their hands.

Big chance: Biyi Alo will get a run in the side af­ter Nick Schon­ert’s in­jury

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