Rugby Union: Ojomoh continues unlikely rise through the ranks

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The Independent Online
STEVE OJOMOH, Nigerian-born and Devon-educated, advanced into the England B pack yesterday, grateful first to Jack Rowell for changing his mind about his prospects on tour and second to the Governor of Hong Kong for persuading the Home Office to let him stay in Britain.

Without either, he would not have made the side named yesterday for Sunday's second international against the New Zealand XV, who have injuries to three key players which has left their choice a complicated amalgam of either-ors. England show three changes, all in the forwards, from the team beaten 24-18 last Sunday: Ojomoh for Matthew Greenwood on the flank; Martin Haag for Dave Baldwin at lock; and Martin Hynes for Gavin Baldwin at prop.

Rowell, the tour coach, also coaches Ojomoh at Bath and his advice was remarkably discouraging in the tour's early days. 'He told me they had to start making changes and I wasn't really being considered,' Ojomoh said. 'I was upset by that because all I wanted was a chance. Since then I've had nothing to lose.' On the other hand, it might just have been clever psychology by Rowell.

Ojomoh had been summoned to tour when Dean Ryan withdrew a fortnight before departure and has won the blind-side place after exceptional displays at No 8 in the past two midweek matches. His contribution to England's defeat of North Auckland on Wednesday was so good that Rowell described it as the best he had ever seen from him.

A 22-year-old business student at Bristol Polytechnic, Ojomoh came from Benin City to West Buckland School, Barnstaple, at the age of 11. He already has experience of beating New Zealand from England Schools' win in 1988, in which Damian Hopley of Sunday's B team also participated.

Having left school in August 1989, Ojomoh was told he was ineligible to renew his visa and would have been expelled but for the intervention of the then-MP for Bath, one Chris Patten. Strings having been pulled, he now has an indefinite visa, has not been to Nigeria for three years and intends playing out his rugby career in England. 'I see it as my second home,' he said.

The coincidental elevation of his club-mate, Haag, is designed partly to counter the productive line-out work of Steve Gordon for New Zealand and partly because the management believe Haag will generate more dynamic drive in broken play. Likewise with Hynes, who will need to behave himself rather better than he did against North Auckland.

England trained in Whangarei yesterday before the 100-mile journey to Auckland, their base for the remainder of the tour although the second Test is a further half-hour's drive south, in Pukekohe, headquarters of the Counties provincial team. Victor Ubogu, his left ear a stitched-up victim of last Sunday's stamping by Chris Tregaskis, was due to leave for home today.

Tregaskis is in a NZ XV who have three players doubtful with leg injuries sustained in Wednesday's indifferent win over North Harbour. If Greg Cooper does not make it, Marty Berry will move to full-back, which in turn would cause an upheaval in midfield. Timo Tagaloa, the Samoan World Cup wing who scored two tries against North Harbour, and the impressive flanker, Glenn Taylor, are the other two with fitness to prove.

ENGLAND B (v NZ XV, Pukekohe, Sunday): I Hunter (Northampton); S Hackney (Leicester), P de Glanville (Bath), D Hopley (Wasps), T Underwood (Leicester); S Barnes (Bath, capt), A Kardooni (Leicester); M Hynes (Orrell), G Dawe (Bath), A Mullins (Harlequins), M Haag (Bath), M Bayfield (Northampton), S Ojomoh, B Clarke (Bath), N Back (Leicester). Replacements: G Thompson (Harlequins), J Steele (Northampton), D Scully (Wakefield), G Baldwin (Northampton), K Dunn (Gloucester), J Cassell (Saracens).

NEW ZEALAND XV: G Cooper (Otago); A McCormick (Canterbury), S Pierce (North Harbour), M Berry (Wairarapa Bush), T Tagaloa (North Harbour) or D Matthews (King Country); L Stensness (Manawatu) or S Mannix (Wellington), S Crabb (Waikato); M Allen (Taranaki), W Gatland (Waikato, capt), G Walsh (North Harbour), S Gordon (Waikato), C Tregaskis (Wellington), G Taylor (North Auckland) or B Hansen (Wanganui), R Turner (North Harbour), D Seymour (Canterbury). Replacements: S Forster (Otago), P Coffin (King Country), C Dowd, M Carter (Auckland).