When Jordan Onojaife sat down at home to watch England’s opening game at the Junior World Championship last month, little did he know he would be lifting the trophy in New Zealand three weeks later.
A European champion with the U18s last year, the Northampton lock, who turns 19 next month, did not feature in the U20s Six Nations and was not selected for the JWC – but an injury to Bath’s Tom Ellis in the first game against Italy changed that.
Within a couple of days, Onojaife was on the plane and he made his U20s debut, starting the last pool game against Argentina.
“It was an eventful few weeks getting a call up to join England U20s in New Zealand,” he told The Rugby Paper.
“I was watching the first game on TV and saw Tom Ellis getting injured. I thought nothing of it but the next day I got a phone call from (U20s forwards coach) Ian Peel asking if I was available.
“Of course I was! The next thing I was on the plane. On my arrival I watched the second game against Australia which was hard to stay awake for and three days later I played against Argentina.
“It was quite surreal to play the last pool game after watching the first on TV at home.
“I was never expecting to be picked so it was a great experience to see how they went about their business and how a winning team behaves.
“My time in New Zealand showed me what it was all about. Although it was over pretty quickly I got some good feedback from the coaches and I’d love to be involved from the start next season.”
Born in England, Onojaife and his family moved to Dubai and that is where he started playing rugby aged 13 at Jumeirah College.
With his big frame, he progressed quickly and on the back of a Northampton summer camp three years ago, he was picked up by the Saints academy and moved back to England to attend the prestigious Stowe school.
After three years in the academy and some A-league appearances last season, the big lock, who stands at 6ft 6in and weighs 119kg (18st 7lb), has developed into a fine specimen and hurting people has become a hobby like his teammate and England star Courtney Lawes.
But the youngster knows that versatility is key these days and he is working hard on other aspects of his game hoping it will help him get some LV=Cup experience next season.
“This year I graduated to a senior academy contract and hopefully I’ll sign my first professional contract at the end of next season,” he added.
“I like to think of myself as a physical player like Bakkies Botha or Courtney Lawes. Hitting the rucks hard is what I enjoy the most but having Christian Day who is a lineout master at Saints is great for me too.
“We’re pushed to be versatile at Northampton so adding more strings to my bow is key.
“We had a great season with the Saints academy last season winning the league and I also played a few games in the A League with the Wanderers.
“My goal for next season is to play more for the Wanderers and get selected with the U20s. Getting a run in the LV= Cup is another big goal of mine too.”
*This article was published in The Rugby Paper on July 13
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