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The 'incredibly powerful kid' starring for Andre-less Harlequins

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Richard Sellers/PA Images via Getty Images)

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Harlequins have given their verdict on Lennox Anyanwu, the 21-year-old who has worn their No12 jersey so far this season with Andre Esterhuizen away on Rugby Championship duty with the Springboks. The so-called ‘Giant’ from South Africa has been the driving force of the London club’s powerhouse midfield in recent seasons but the 101kg youngster hasn’t looked out of place in recent weeks as a new starter in Tabai Matson’s side.

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Until this month, Anyanwu’s only previous top-flight experience was as a 79th-minute replacement in a December 2020 game versus Bristol, but he has now started the matches versus Newcastle and Saracens, scoring a try at the Falcons and making 13 carries for 57 metres across the two outings where the only downside was the concession of a couple of penalties and a few missed tackles.

Anyanwu came across very well earlier this year when he featured in Prep to Win, the documentary series that filmed Harlequins during the pre-season for the 2021/22 campaign. The lockdown hit the former England age-grade player really hard and he even contemplated quitting the game.

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“I live in north London with my mum and my brother. It was quite an interesting decision but I said rugby is quite the bubble and I want to spend as much time away from the bubble as I can without detriment to my career,” he explained in the documentary produced by Beno Obano, the Bath and England prop.

“When you are truly stuck in a bubble it starts to become toxic essentially. You can’t switch off, you come back home and you’re thinking about what happened today at training, think about what that coach said or what that player said.

“Rugby is meant to be a job that you really enjoy and not many people get to do jobs they really enjoy. Having a job you enjoy you can’t get into the element where it’s toxic all the time, you can’t get to the element where you are coming into training and you are not really in the mood to train. For me, covid really like shone a light on it. I couldn’t go anywhere else, I couldn’t go out.

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“Everyone was on lockdown so the only thing I did every week was I would show up to training, I’d flog myself, come home, have two days off and do it again and it just got to a point I’m not enjoying rugby at all. I remember I said to our academy manager quite a few times I don’t think I want to play anymore.”

In the end, Anyanwu persisted with playing and last season’s experience with Richmond in the Championship, allied to the vote of confidence from Harlequins which was a contract extension earlier this year, had him primed to make light the current absence of the Test-playing Esterhuizen.

His impact hasn’t been lost on assistant coach Adam Jones, who has given the arrival of Anyanwu into the Harlequins first-team the thumbs up. “With him, he is such a good kid and I love this logic that he goes back home to his mum and to where all his schoolmates are. They bring him down to earth if he gets big-headed,” he told RugbyPass ahead of this Sunday’s trip to Exeter.

“It is a fair trek to get to north London (from Quins’ training ground in Guildford) but he is a pretty grounded kid. We knew with Lennox he might have been a slow burner and he just needed to play. He had got some good game time at Richmond and he is an incredibly powerful kid, quick and is probably more skilful than people would give him credit for.

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“He has done a great job and it is like any young fella coming in and playing these first-team games, it can be a bit daunting and it can be a bit on top of them but he has taken to it like a duck to water. He has got the confidence of all the boys and the coaches and it’s good to see him doing well.”

Facing a star-studded Saracens in front of a sold-out Stoop was quite the challenge, though. How did he go? “He tried hard,” reckoned Jones. “As a team, we didn’t perform after we went 17-0 up but, as I say, he tried his best, he was against a Welsh international twelve (Nick Tompkins) and he more than held his own.

“The game up in Newcastle he scored a try in his first Premiership start and he was brilliant up there. Like all young boys, there are going to be these little bits that are highlighted… but he has done really well and like a lot of the boys who come through, he is a good kid who works hard and is really diligent. He is one of these boys who I am sure if you met him you’d want the best for him.”

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