Asher Opoku-Fordjour: ‘I don’t really know what my ceiling is — I want to do it all’

Interview: The teenage prop tells The Independent about his remarkable breakthrough season and his goals in the game

Harry Latham-Coyle
Monday 13 May 2024 23:55 BST
Asher Opoku-Fordjour is a rising star of English rugby
Asher Opoku-Fordjour is a rising star of English rugby (Getty Images)

Asher Opoku-Fordjour is halfway through explaining his remarkable rise to prominence when the Sale prop is stopped mid-flow by a young fan seeking a selfie. It’s a Tuesday night at Twickenham and Opoku-Fordjour has just been named as the Rugby Black List’s Rising Star, a fitting honour for a 19-year-old who has taken this Premiership season by storm.

“It’s still a bit crazy for me,” Opoku-Fordjour admits as the young girl departs with a signature and a smile. “I never expect it when that sort of stuff happens.”

He’ll have to get used to the autograph hunters. Props aren’t necessarily known for bursting on to the scene, with the position often the preserve of the gnarled and battle-hardened, where wisdom usually trumps the exuberance of youth. But Opoku-Fordjour has proved that something of a fallacy in a breakthrough campaign that has seen him power his way on to Steve Borthwick’s radar as the England head coach aims to safeguard his front-row future.

Long tipped as a top prop prospect inside the Rugby Football Union (RFU) pathways, it was Joe Marler’s stamp of approval that really brought the Sale Sharks tighthead to the attention of the wider rugby public. Thrust in front of a TNT Sports microphone in December with Harlequins dominant against Sale at the Stoop, Marler hailed the qualities of the replacement prop who had just put him in reverse gear during a second-half scrum.

Asher Opoku-Fordjour has impressed throughout Sale’s season
Asher Opoku-Fordjour has impressed throughout Sale’s season (Getty Images for Sale Sharks)

Similarly destructive displays in the Premiership and Champions Cup followed, prompting Alex Sanderson, Sale’s director of rugby, to say a talent like Opoku-Fordjour was “as rare as teddy bear s***” – a prop idol had been born.

“The award means a lot,” Opoku-Fordjour reflects as he nears the end of a crazy season. “It just shows the hard work I’ve been putting in and the time people have been putting into me has been worth it and the rewards are showing.

“Even getting my debut this early into my career is something I could never have imagined. I’m just so grateful to all of the coaches and staff that have helped me get to where I am today.

“I feel like Sale have helped me so much. It’s the trust Al [Sanderson] puts in you. He makes us believe we can do it and do have the ability to do it. He put me in at 19 to make my Premiership debut, which shows the trust he had in me. You don’t want to let that trust down.”

The young prop has caught Steve Borthwick’s eye
The young prop has caught Steve Borthwick’s eye (Getty Images for Sale Sharks)

Originally from football territory in Coventry and of Ghanaian heritage, Opoku-Fordjour was encouraged to give rugby a go by his father, picking up the sport alongside his brother at Broadstreet RFC, their local club. His rise through the Wasps ranks was ended when the club folded in November 2022, prompting a move north, where he has flourished.

Having been a key figure throughout England’s title-winning U20 Six Nations campaign, the youngster’s first senior start arrived last month in a Challenge Cup knockout tie against the Ospreys.

Seen by the RFU as a loosehead, Opoku-Fordjour prefers tighthead, though his versatility should only be an asset. Though Borthwick has not yet reached out directly to the youngster, the 19-year-old remains very much in the mix for full international honours in the not-too-distant future.

Steve Borthwick is impressed by Asher Opoku-Fordjour’s potential
Steve Borthwick is impressed by Asher Opoku-Fordjour’s potential (Getty Images)

Opoku-Fordjour is, for now, content to be the cornerstone of England’s age-group World Cup bid in South Africa this summer – but when the time comes to step up, the teenager is keen to push the limits of his potential.

“I’m not done with Under-20s; I’ve still got a World Cup to win,” he states. “Hopefully we’ll see what happens after the World Cup. I’m just taking it step by step. Whatever comes along, I’m grateful for. I’m just focusing on my goals and how I can get better.

“I know I’m still early in my career but I want to do it all. I want to play for the British & Irish Lions and I want to play for England. That’s what every kid wants to do and it’s the same for me.

“But I’m just going to have to keep pushing myself and see where I can get to. I need to put on weight and hopefully I can get stronger and fitter. I definitely need to do that to reach the peak. I don’t really know what my ceiling is.”

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