Bath prop Beno Obano has opened up on the Maro Itoje Pearl Conversations podcast about the spiral of events and injuries he has encountered in order to reach the stage he is at now in his career. The two players, who are actually cousins, discussed everything from their rugby careers to their childhood holidays. They also shared their experiences in the professional rugby environment being British-Nigerian. 

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Obano explained how he keeps to himself in what is a different culture to what he is used to, having come “from a Nigerian household where if it’s any sport at all it’s football, if it’s not football then it’s books”. The Bath prop also spoke at length about the obstacles he has had to overcome throughout his career in terms of injuries and the path that has led him to the cusp of the England squad. 

The first major setback the 25-year-old suffered was while he was still at school in London and part of the Wasps academy. He said on the podcast: “I was playing for my 1st XV at the time. I was 16, so I was still in year eleven playing for the 1st XV and in the last minute of the game I went for a jackal and the ground just went underneath me.

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“I’ve done the splits and torn my hamstring. Obviously, at the time you don’t know anything about injuries, I was just thinking, ‘I’ve pulled it’, I just thought it was okay and I’ll be back in a week or two.” 

The loosehead had Wasps training on the afternoon of the injury and he recalls that his hamstring reacted in such a way that it “has never been the same since. ‘Til this day, ’til this running session I did this morning, it’s never been the same since”.

This injury ultimately meant the prop was fast-tracked to the England U16s camp without going through the regional stages, yet he “couldn’t run at all” and was subsequently sent home due to a lack of fitness. Despite missing out on the under-16s, he later made the England U18s squad only to play at hooker, which both he and Itoje regaled was hampered by his throwing. 

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The next setback was after signing a contract with Wasps where he had a scan on a back injury that had been bothering him. This revealed his back was fractured, which meant he missed “the majority of the season”. He said: “I was learning how to run again properly. This was all happening at 19 and I don’t think people understand – when you’re 18, 19 you can’t fully comprehend injuries and what it takes to return from them.”

After leaving Wasps, Obano was offered an opportunity to play an A league game. “I trained for Bath for a week and then went and played in that game and lasted 18 minutes. They dragged me off after 18 minutes. I hadn’t played rugby in a year and I must have been about 126kgs.”

Nonetheless, Mike Ford gave Obano the opportunity to take part in the pre-season at Bath, which he said was “the hardest I’ve ever done in my life”. He was offered a contract after that and spent the season on loan at Coventry. It was during Todd Blackadder’s second season in charge at The Rec in 2017/18 where the imposing prop finally announced himself, emerging on the radar of England head coach Eddie Jones. 

However, this progress was yet again curtailed by a devastating knee injury in May 2018 while with England where he “tore every ligament” in his knee. While that was his most recognised setback to date, Obano also described how he had suffered a knee subluxation earlier that year with Bath which meant he did not take part in the England training camp ahead of the Six Nations. 

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These experiences throughout his career have given him a cautious approach to rehabbing and dealing with injuries, leading him to trust what and who he knows. He said: “Because of my hamstring I don’t trust physios that much, so I don’t trust what they say. But I have a good friend of mine called Keir Wenham-Flatt. He works in college football now in America and if I had an issue I would always call him. That was important.

“So the physios would suggest something and I’d call people to make sure what I’m doing is correct. Then all you have to do is make a good plan and just stick at it, be consistent with it and that’s basically what I did. I just trusted the people that I knew and the physios that I knew that I trusted, not just the club physios, and basically created a plan with them and then followed that. I remember I’d get in so many arguments with my physio because they would tell me to do stuff I’d refuse to do. But it worked and I got back in nine months.”

His knee injury quashed any hopes of competing for a World Cup 2019 place, but Obano has been ever-present for Bath since his return. An injury to Mako Vunipola during this year’s Six Nations saw him called into the England training camp once again, but he remained behind Joe Marler and Ellis Genge in the pecking order and is still waiting for his first cap. 

He added that it “weighs on [him] quite a bit” that he has not yet played for England, particularly as his cousin plays so often, and he outlined his determination to be selected by Jones in the future. 

 

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