RIS­ING STARS JOEL 1 KPOKU

Rugby World - - FRONT ROW - In­ter­views Alan Dy­mock & Sarah Mock­ford // Pic­tures Getty Im­ages & Matthew Im­pey/REX/Shutterstock

hat got you into rugby? I got into it at school but I was ini­tially scouted by Lon­don Sko­lars in rugby league. I started there at U12s. I then went to Sara­cens Am­a­teurs and joined the Sar­ries U17 academy. Were you al­ways a lock? I started off at prop in U14 level and then I moved to sec­ond-row when I got big­ger. I played at prop in rugby league as well.

Did you play any other sports when you were grow­ing up? I also played bas­ket­ball when I was around eight to ten. I was play­ing at guard – I was sort of like the cen­tre-back, so I was pro­tect­ing things un­der the hoop. That meant slap­ping balls away and us­ing my frame. It’s some­thing I like to do now with rugby. Who were your heroes grow­ing up? I was a mas­sive fan of Thierry Henry when I was younger. He was a great player for Arse­nal, who I sup­port as they are quite close to South­gate, in North Lon­don, where I grew up.

My dad, Jose, was also a big in­flu­ence on me. He used to come home from work at 6am, grab about three hours’ sleep and then drive us to train­ing or a game on Satur­days. He didn’t have to do it. He had plenty of sleep to catch up on af­ter work­ing the night shift from 9pm to 6am in a ware­house in North

WLon­don. I just want to give back to him af­ter all he has done for us. Your twin brother, Jonathan, is also at Sara­cens. What’s that like? He plays lock too and we both came on to­gether against Worces­ter in the Premiership Cup last month. It was the first time we’d played to­gether this sea­son. It gives you con­fi­dence to have a rel­a­tive with you, who plays the same po­si­tion as you. We can talk about what I need to get bet­ter at or what he is do­ing well. It’s also nice to have some­one who will al­ways have your back.

My younger brother, Ju­nior, is with Sara­cens Am­a­teurs. I hope he wants to push on and play pro­fes­sional rugby. What are your big goals?

This sea­son I want to push into the Premiership side and get more reg­u­lar game time. And long-term I want to play for the Eng­land se­nior side.

To do all that I need to keep push­ing hard and keep ask­ing ques­tions of guys like Maro Itoje and Nick Isiekwe.

Age

19 ( 22 June 1999)

De­spite star­ring for Eng­land U20 at the last Ju­nior World Cham­pi­onship, Kpoku was sur­prised to be in­cluded in the se­nior Eng­land train­ing squad in Au­gust. Ex­pect Sara­cens to call on Kpoku more and more this sea­son.

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