Get to know the latest highly-promising second-row off the Saracens production line

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Saracens and England U20 lock Joel Kpoku

Date of birth 22 June 1999 Born East London Club Saracens Country England Position Lock

What 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 London. 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.

RW VERDICT: 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.

This article originally appeared in the January 2019 edition of Rugby World magazine.

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