Name: Alexander Corbisiero
Age: 22 (30 August 1988)
Born: New York, USA
The first thing my dad did on arriving in Kingston, Surrey, from America when I was five was settle me into a rugby club. I loved my time playing at KCS Old Boys. It was a great group of friends; we had a great vibe and a huge bond. I didn’t want to go out in the rain sometimes so my mum or dad had to drag me, but once there I loved it.
As a big lad I still loved touch rugby as it was a great way to pick up rugby skills. If it’d been contact at the start I might have been more inclined to try to run through people, rather than learn how to go round them. I hope it helped me avoid being a one-dimensional player. Some of the lessons I learnt all those years ago are with me today.
I’ve always played at prop, though I started at tighthead so I’ve drifted between that and loosehead. At 12 we didn’t have the numbers to carry on at KCS so around eight of us moved to London Scottish, and I played two seasons of full contact.
Don’t let anyone tell you that you won’t play international rugby if you don’t play age-group rugby for your country. I didn’t and still made it into the full England team.
A late developer, when I was at Cobham, I didn’t even get past the first U16 trial at county level. I was also attending the International School in Cobham, which probably didn’t help as it wasn’t a big rugby school like some in the area.
Those setbacks made me work harder. My dad is the sort of person who never wants to take no for an answer so he made me work harder. He’d never let me quit, and he and my mum were always there to drive me on.
Sport is a great thing for a teenager to get involved in. Rugby taught me discipline, dedication and how to work with others in a team. Running around was also far better for me than sitting on my backside at home. Obviously I was quite a big kid so my parents were keen to ensure I did enough exercise!
I worked hard in those late teenage years and got a lot bigger, a lot taller and started to do weights. I’d never lifted a weight until I was 16.
I got noticed playing for Surrey U17 by London Welsh coach Alan Rise, so I played there up to U19, which was the first really competitive rugby I got.
I moved to London Irish in my last year of school. A referee who officiated at some of my games had recommended me to them.
I was lucky enough to move into their Junior Academy after a three-week summer trial. That really kicked things off for me.
I never considered I had a chance of making a career out of rugby until that trial, but I’ve never looked back. I signed full-time with Irish after being selected for England’s U18 team.
The USA played me in an U19 warm-up game, but I’d always wanted to play for England and once I had my chance in the U18 side it was confirmed.
I owe a big debt to my family for the support from all of them – my mum, dad, brothers and sisters; for all they’ve done over the years, the sacrifices they’ve made for my rugby career.
London Irish have been crucial to my progress; giving me chances to play but not putting too many demands on me. Guys like Neal Hatley and (England’s) Graham Rowntree have helped me massively.
My story is of a player who just kept knocking on the door until it opened. People develop at different times. For me it came much later so I had to be patient.
I was lucky to get my chance with England this season and to come into a side that has been playing so well. I’d been waiting for the opportunity for a while and I’d been keeping my head down, working hard and doing my analysis, until my chance came against Italy.
It was daunting to play for England initially, but once I got that first scrum out of the way I was able to focus on what I had to do and settle in. With everyone around me doing their jobs so well, it made it easier for me to come into the team.
I’ve thrived on the way England are playing this year. I feel privileged to have had the chance and to win the Six Nations in my first season. I have to keep pinching myself.
DID YOU KNOW?
Corbisiero’s great grandfather left Naples for America in the 1920s to open a restaurant called Riccardo’s. Alex’s rapping skills have seen him dubbed the ‘hip-hop prop’ and he’s studying history part-time at Birbeck College. Also, Corbisiero made his England debut against Italy, where his family originated.
This article appeared in the May 2011 issue of Rugby World Magazine.
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