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The 'rolled his sleeves up' Isiekwe moment much lauded by Saracens

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Dan Mullan/The RFU Collection via Getty Images)

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Saracens boss Mark McCall has hugely sung the praises of Nick Isiekwe, the lock who ended a yawning four-year gap without a Test cap by forcing his way back into the England reckoning for the recently ended Guinness Six Nations.

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The second row had just turned 20 in summer 2018 when Eddie Jones ambitiously gambled that a first international start against the Springboks in Johannesburg was the next step for rookie forward that had previously had a pair of runs off the Test bench.

It didn’t go well. 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 and with the critics not holding back in their bruising assessment, Isiekwe was left to wait 44 months before he was capped again

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Injury to Jonny Hill gave him his a long-awaited chance of a return and Isiekwe took it with both hands, playing four times for England in the championship – starting against Scotland and Italy in the opening rounds, stepping off the round three bench versus Wales and then starting the round five finale away to France last Saturday.  

It was quite the achievement, not only getting capped again after being out of the Test loop for so long but also his determination to stay in the fight mid-tournament when the pressure came on and he temporarily fell down the pecking order

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Isiekwe didn’t sulk about his Ireland match rejection – he got on with things for Saracens and came off their bench at Newcastle on the same day as that March 12 England defeat at Twickenham. That attitude greatly impressed McCall. “He’s a brilliant club man,” said the Saracens coach when asked by RugbyPass to give his verdict on Isiekwe’s fortunes in recent months. “He went away to Northampton (on loan) last year and they really enjoyed having him as well.

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“He is one of those guys who just fits in very easily wherever he is and during the Six Nations he was on the bench for us up at Newcastle. He rolled his sleeves up and got stuck in with his teammates. That is the kind of person he is.  

“Nick got capped early and maybe on reflection, it was a little bit too early and he had a couple of difficult experiences, especially away in South Africa when he played there. But he was much more ready for England this time around. He’s 23 now and is on top of his game. 

“I thought he was more mature, a lot more confident in himself and he took the opportunity really well. It was a bit of a topsy-turvey championship in terms of selection because he started the first two and then was left off for a bit, but we were delighted he got picked for the last game. He is only going to benefit from having gone through the whole Six Nations.”

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