Nick Isiekwe is already one of England’s biggest forwards but the young Saracens lock, who will face the might of the South African pack at Ellis Park on Saturday, intends to become an even more formidable physical threat thanks to a special diet of chicken and milk.
Isiekwe has been given the daunting task of replacing the injured Joe Launchbury who is England’s most effective maul destroyer and the Saracens forward will be an obvious target for the Springboks as he only has two caps going into the first of three tests in South Africa.
His form for Saracens as they surged to another Premiership title was consistently eye-catching and at 6ft 7ins and 18st 12lbs, he has all the physical attributes England head coach Eddie Jones wants for this series and next year’s Rugby World Cup in Japan. What excites the Saracens coaching staff and Jones is that Isiekwe is not the finished article, something he is quick to acknowledge.
His physique is being changed thanks to regular chicken meals washed down with milk, a diet aimed at increasing his weight while also maintaining the mobility that has allowed him to operate at blindside flanker as well as lock.
Mentally, he already shows the kind of single-minded focus needed to succeed at the very top of a sport that is becoming increasingly demanding, which is why the 20-year-old is taking nothing for granted.
Isiekwe is now the second heaviest lock at Saracens behind the gargantuan Wallaby Will Skelton (22st) with fellow England forwards Maro Itoje at 18st 4lbs and George Kruis hitting the scales at 18st 2lbs. Isiekwe said: “I am not going to come off the chicken and milk diet until I finish playing because I love them. Chicken is one of my favourites foods and a nice glass of milk is always good. I don’t know if I have stopped growing because I have been 6ft 7ins for the last year or so and my ideal weight would be 122 kgs (19st 2lbs) and I am 120kgs at the moment, having put on a bit of weight this season.
“Will is a massive guy and it is about me finding my own ideal playing weight – the one I feel I can best operate at. There is a balancing act and as long as I can get around as quickly as I need to on the pitch then it’s not a problem and that is why I believe I can still put on weight. It will be a case of trying it out and seeing how I go. After a match you can indulge in the odd bad meal and my choice would be a visit to the Pudding Stop in St Albans!”
Isiekwe’s favourite player was Springbok flyer Bryan Habana when he was starting out in rugby and also tips his hat to Martin Johnson because “ he looked so hard and tough on the pitch” and admired the uncompromising nature of the World Cup winning captain’s play. Isiekwe has already shown he can handle himself at international, European and Premiership level although it has all been a bit of blur for a player who only said goodbye to his teenage years in April.
He explained: “I haven’t really had a chance to think about what I have been fortunate to achieve so far in my career and I like to live the moment and focus on the next challenge.
“I do like to run into a challenge and maybe I can get overeager at times, but I would prefer to be like that rather than someone who wants to test out the water first.”
“I try not to think too far ahead and I understand that you have to improve every time you play and I need to put in consistent performances that my family can be proud of. My first England jersey is on the wall of the hallway at the family home near the front door. I think Mum likes to look at it a lot and it is cool to go back and see it.”
Not everything has gone smoothly for Isiekwe with England head coach Jones revealing during the January Portugal squad session that the Sarries lock has failed his driving test five times.
“Unfortunately I haven’t passed my driving theory test and the next date is undisclosed!”
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