The Ireland U20 front-rower talks positional switches and biggest influences

Hotshot: Connacht prop Sam Illo

Date of birth 16 February 2001 Born Dublin Position Prop Province Connacht Country Ireland

When did you first play rugby? 

Maybe ten or 12. That was at a club in Longford because we moved there for a year or two before going back to Dublin. Then when I went to Wesley College it became more serious.

Did you play any other sports? 

We played a lot of sports at school – tennis, cricket, football. I also played football socially – that’s the sport I started with.

What positions have you played? 

I started in the back row and was there until fifth year, then at 17 when I first went to Leinster (academy) they moved me to loosehead prop and the next year I went to tighthead. I prefer tighthead.

What are your strengths? 

My ball-carrying is the main one. My tackling is pretty good for a front-row and my game awareness.

You joined Connacht last summer… 

They came in with an offer after the U20s (Six Nations). It was a senior contract and I felt I’d get more game time.

Moving was tough at the start and finding a house in Galway was pretty hard, but I’ve now got my own place and live with another rugby lad, Josh O’Connor, and I’m enjoying it here. The squad have been really good.

Who’ve been your biggest influences? 

One of my school coaches, Iain Wallace, went out of his way to help my development. Then at Leinster, Simon Broughton. Sometimes when things weren’t going the best and I didn’t know if I was going to make it, he’d check on me and see how I was doing. He really believed in me. I doubted myself, ‘Am I good enough?’, and the commitment wasn’t always there, but he gave me a lot of confidence. Then the U20s was huge.

What do you do away from rugby? 

I was studying property and real estate in Dublin, but I’ve had to defer because I missed the deadline to transfer to another course here. It’s something I want to go into after rugby.

RW Verdict: The 2021 U20 Six Nations was a breakthrough moment for Old Wesley’s Illo. Injury hampered him at the start of the season and delayed his Connacht debut, but he is one of Ireland’s ‘next gen’ front-rows.

This article originally appeared in Rugby World’s January 2022 edition.

Download the digital edition of Rugby World straight to your tablet or subscribe to the print edition to get the magazine delivered to your door.

Follow Rugby World on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.