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Saracens: How Nick Isiekwe ended 44-month wait for England recall

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

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You have to go back 44 months to find the last time that Saracens lock Nick Isiekwe was capped by England. He had just turned 20 at the time and having previously had a pair of runs off the Test bench, Eddie Jones ambitiously gambled that a first international start against the Springboks in Johannesburg was the next step for rookie forward. 

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With South Africa fighting back from a 3-24 deficit to lead 29-24 heading into the interval, Jones took the draconian step of removing Isiekwe from the action with just 36 minutes played. It was a brutally public setback where the critics didn’t hold back in their assessment.  

Take the Sportsmail coverage of that afternoon on the Highveld. Isiekwe was marked 4/10 and the accompanying comment was: “Hooked after 36 minutes by Jones – lost in the intense drama of the first half and couldn’t slow Bok ball down.”

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That setback has taken Isiekwe nearly four years to recover from and even now his England recall is somewhat of a surprise. Just a couple of weeks ago when the original 36-strong squad was named for the Six Nations his name was nowhere to be seen. 

He was called up some days later as injury training cover for Jonny Hill but it was only when Hill was scratched from the 29-man squad retained on Tuesday that Isiekwe became an official member of the squad.  

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Two days later he was named in the starting XV alongside Saracens teammate Maro Itoje and he will run out at Murrayfield for his fourth ever Test cap and finally draw a line under the long wait he endured since 2018 to get back into the team. To say his London club was chuffed by his inclusion would be an understatement, head coach Joe Shaw describing it as a triumph for hard work and the level of excellence that now exists in his game. 

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“Nick has been at the club since he was 14 years old and it seemed very early when he was 19 and playing cup finals for us. I don’t think it has necessarily been his lack of work (as to why he was excluded for so long), he is extremely diligent. 

He is in a really tough position within the England framework with other people but he has cracked on. Last year he went and had a good year (on loan) with Northampton and he has come back to us and has grafted on, played so well and done such a lot of work behind the scenes that justifiably he has got into Eddie’s plans.

“I don’t want to compare him to anybody else but what I see here day in day out is someone who is learning to be an excellent lineout caller, somebody who can operate a lineout extremely well. His work around the field, his collision work on both sides of the ball has come on so for a 23-year-old lad he is growing nicely. He has got an extreme appetite to get better and being surrounded by the people he has got at this club, he is able to take on things really quickly and he is developing nicely.”

Scotland are massively confident of getting a win over England and the Test level inexperience of Isiekwe will be fastened on as a reason for further Scottish optimism, especially as the matchday weather forecast is poor. Saracens, though, are backing their soon-to-be 24-year-old player to thrive.  

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“It’s just British weather really, we play in the rain, we play in the sun. Nick has been around for a good time and played for England and he has been playing in cup finals etc so he is pretty confident whatever will get thrown at him this weekend.”

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