NEWCASTLE Falcons are resisting the urge to rush teenage star Zach Kibirige into regular front-line duty, insisting his studies have to come first.
The Middlesbrough-born flyer is in the final year of his A-levels at Yarm School but is already making serious waves around the circuit after a storming start on the Falcons’ wing.
Scoring on his debut as a 17-year-old in the British and Irish Cup win over Welsh visitors Cross Keys, Kibirige followed that up with an 80-metre interception try against Rotherham in his maiden league start.
That form continued with a two-try masterclass in Tuesday’s 28-10 win at Doncaster.
However, director of rugby Dean Richards remains adamant he will not up the pace on a schedule which has seen the England age-group cap deployed an average of once a month in Newcastle colours.
“Zach is a quality player and to take his tries in the manner he did down in Doncaster was a brilliant effort,” said Richards, with Kibirige’s opener seeing him latch on to a kick downfield before a jet-heeled second secured his side a four-try bonus point two minutes from time.
“The second one, in particular, was a heck of a finish, but he is a player who is capable of producing those moments.”
Careful to balance short-term gains with the bigger picture, Richards added of a player who still only trains part-time with the league leaders: “We are extremely conscious of Zach’s education.
“We are on great terms with his schoolteachers and there is no way we would ever want to compromise that.
“The times he has played for us are the times where it has been acceptable alongside his studies, and in conjunction with his family there is no way we would sacrifice his academic pursuits.”
Kibirige has already committed his future to the Falcons with a recently-signed contract, one which encompasses his university ambitions alongside a rapidly-emerging rugby career path.
The 18-year-old has been put in touch with Wales and Lions international Jamie Roberts, who famously combined top-level sport with a medical degree.
With the infrastructure around him at Newcastle, it is not hard to see why remaining at Kingston Park seems such an attractive proposition.
Containing the hype might be one challenge, but Richards was rightly taking the wider view in assessing his side’s exploits against a Doncaster side who belied their bottom-of-the-league status in making life tough for the leaders.
The director of rugby said: “It was a typical New Year’s Day match, full of knock-ons and things like that, and we tried to push the game in areas where we didn’t need to push it.
“I guess the biggest area for improvement would just be our basics, which encompasses a lot, but we will look at those things as we always do.”
One positive, alongside Kibirige’s spectacular contribution, was the return to fitness of club captain Will Welch, who had been absent for two months after struggling to shake off a back injury.
The open-side made a promising 25-minute cameo from the bench, Richards stating: “It was pleasing to see Will back on the field and he took a lovely turnover to remind us just what he can do. To see him playing again was fantastic.”
Newcastle’s win in south Yorkshire extended their lead at the top of the Championship table to 17 points, although nearest rivals Bedford Blues still have a game in hand.
That will be played on Saturday in Richmond, when they travel to face a London Scottish side who became the closest to toppling the unbeaten Falcons last month in a 12-9 Kingston Park loss.