Get to know the highly-rated Tiger who led England U18 on a tour of South Africa in 2019

Leicester back-row Emeka Ilione

Date of birth 20 March 2002 Born Mansfield, Notts Position Back-row Club Leicester Country England

When did you first play rugby? 

At 11 – I moved to Nottingham High School and it was the major sport there, so I gave it a go and enjoyed it. The team spirit and social side is what really got me into it.

Did you play any other sports? 

I played football for Nottingham Forest U10/U11. It got to the point when I was no longer having fun with it and it was nice to try something different like rugby.

What was your first position? 

I started in the centres, 13. Then as I progressed, with the skills I had, I found I was more suited to playing in the back row. I moved there when I was 15 or 16. I think back-rowers have got to do it all going forward.

Any childhood heroes?

In football, Ronaldo. I’m also a big tennis fan and love that Roger Federer, even though he’s the best in the world, is always trying to find ways to improve. That is something I try to do not just in rugby but in life. My dad calls it the pursuit of excellence.

What do you want to improve rugby-wise? 

I’ve been working a lot on the breakdown, trying to make it a point of difference.

My strength would be ball-carrying, especially in the wider channels.

What representative honours do you have?

I played for England U18 last summer in South Africa. That was an amazing experience. I Was lucky enough to captain the side. I enjoy having that pressure; I’d much rather learn in a pressurised situation and it’s an opportunity to show what I can do.

When did you join Leicester? 

I’ve been there all the way through, from EPDG U13. I started full-time a month ago.

Who has been the biggest influence on your career? 

Probably Jamie Taylor, Leicester’s former academy manager. He’s the one who really helped me with detail and gave me the belief that I was good enough to go full-time.

What are your goals for the next year? 

As I’m going to uni, the biggest thing I’m focusing on is working hard in training and making sure I’m ready to take the opportunities when they come.

What are you studying? 

I’m going to Nottingham to study medicine. I’m trying to plan exactly what I can do to fit things around Leicester – it’s doable but takes some organising. I’ll do the first year full-time, then probably go part-time and spread the course over a longer period.

RW Verdict: He’s only just finished school but Ilione has already impressed Maro Itoje, who picked him in his Nigerian British XV. And Jamie Roberts has given him advice on balancing rugby with a medical degree. Definitely a name to watch.

This article originally appeared in the September 2020 edition of Rugby World magazine.

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