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'I just can't wait to get started now' - Opportunity knocks for Offaly's Cormac Izuchukwu in Ulster switch

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Cormac Izuchukwu one of Ulster's new Academy recruits. Photo: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Cormac Izuchukwu one of Ulster's new Academy recruits. Photo: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Cormac Izuchukwu one of Ulster's new Academy recruits. Photo: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

As rugby inches slowly closer to a return to training, Ulster can already say with certainty that at least one of their new Academy recruits hasn't spent the enforced break binging on the best and worst of Netflix.

After a year and a half on the sevens circuit, lockdown has been the longest Cormac Izuchukwu has spent in one place since his schooldays but, with no TV in his Tullamore family home, the 20-year-old has mostly spent the days running the roads and lifting weights.

Born in London to a Nigerian father and Irish mother, he moved to Offaly aged seven. His earliest sporting interests were GAA and basketball, while he showed real promise in athletics too. But a switch of school to board at Cistercian, Roscrea in fourth year would expose him to the oval ball. "At first when we moved back it was a bit of a shock," he says. "My parents got divorced and my mum wanted to be around her family.

"London is obviously very multi-cultural, there's a large African community there, our whole street would have been from Nigeria or Ghana and places like that. Moving to rural Ireland, there's two black people in a town of 15,000, and that's quite shocking as a kid. I wouldn't say it was ever hard, but it was alien.

"We obviously weren't the most well off, we didn't have a TV or Wi-Fi, but that just meant that sport was always what I put my energy into and that's obviously a great way to make friends and feel at home. I was 16 when I went to Roscrea and schools rugby is obviously huge there. It's just a great breeding ground really, it was amazing for me to go in and learn so much.

"I was a bit of a slow learner. I was always raw. I played for the Senior Cup side as a centre so I'd be playing 13 in attack and 12 in defence and I never really came onto the radar of Leinster."

An injury just prior to a screening day at Connacht scuppered that avenue too but Izuchukwu wasn't ready to give up the game.

"I was in the library checking my emails and there was a fella there and I was telling him I didn't want to go to college but I wanted to play rugby," he says. "He had said to take a look and see if there was anywhere to play abroad. What I found was basically like Gumtree for rugby players, there'd be these ads but instead of being for like a car or a bike, it's 'rugby players wanted at Kelso RFC'.

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"I wanted to play rugby. So over I went to play for Kelso. I was there for four or five months. It was only club rugby, but to me, I was treating it like it was a professional set-up. I took a job in Sainsbury's but I was working so hard to become a better player, I didn't have time to keep it on.

"There's a coach there, a Kiwi called Gary Stevens, he was so good for me and my development as a player and he was the one who told me that if I really worked hard, I'd be able to make a go at the next level."

It was Stevens too who got in contact with the IRFU to see about any opportunities available, a deal with sevens director Anthony Eddy arranged in next to no time at all.

"I was 6' 1'' when I left school as a centre and by the time I got to Scotland I was 6'7'' and 10 kilos heavier so became a second-row," he says.

Having impressed in the Paris Sevens last year, and again at RugbyX in London's O2, he was a regular at the 15-a-side training camps for the Ireland U-20s earlier this season where Ulster Academy boss Kieran Campbell was on the coaching ticket.

"I owe so much to sevens but I have been trying to get back into 15s since I left Scotland," he adds. "I just can't wait to get started now."


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