Zach Kibirige finally given licence to fly with Newcastle Falcons

Eased in slowly to senior rugby, England Under-20s flyer Zach Kibirige will finally make his much-anticipated Premiership debut this afternoon when Newcastle Falcons travel to Gloucester

Teenage rugby star Zach Kibirige
Zach Kibirige

Eased in slowly to senior rugby, England Under-20s flyer Zach Kibirige will finally make his much-anticipated Premiership debut this afternoon when Newcastle Falcons travel to Gloucester.

The clamour for the 19-year-old speedster to inject some scoring threat into a Newcastle side winless since October in the league has grown steadily stronger since his senior debut in the British and Irish Cup last season.

On that occasion he scored with his very first touch in a home rout over Cross Keys a week before his 18th birthday.

And it seems another try against Welsh opposition has done his cause the power of good a year and a half on.

Kibirige (pictured right) became a YouTube sensation a fortnight ago when his 80-metre solo try for England against Wales Under-20s saw him collecting a loose ball on his own 22 and beating six defenders with a mixture of pace, power and evasion.

Within two days the score had gathered 45,000 views on the internet, and was a typical demonstration of his exploits for both Blaydon and Yarm School, for whom he scored in last year’s victorious Daily Mail Vase final at Twickenham.

With Newcastle having only registered 10 tries in their 16 league games this term any concerns over inexperience or defensive considerations have finally been outweighed, by director of rugby Dean Richards.

Kibirige lines up against former England wing Charlie Sharples in a personal battle with no shortage of speed.

“I am obviously delighted to be involved, and to get a chance to play in the Premiership,” he said, unperturbed by his top-flight debut coming at one of the English game’s most hostile arenas.

“A place like Kingsholm against a side like Gloucester is what it is all about, but I will just carry on doing what I am doing.

“That is what has put me where I am, and I will just keep my feet on the floor.”

It was the kind of typical pragmatism the level-headed youngster has been demonstratiing quietly right the way through, with the straight-A student not one to get carried away by his internet notoriety or the rising tide of expectation.

“Yeah, I really enjoyed it,” he said, of the try that instigated his YouTube fame. “I loved playing for England Under-20s and against Wales, and it made it even more special that it was on my home ground at Kingston Park.

“To get a try in a 67-7 win just topped the whole thing off, and we were really delighted with the performance.

“We had been focusing during the week on getting our performances right, and we knew we could produce a result like that if we did.”

Unmoved by playing in front of Gloucester’s infamous ‘Shed’ and asked if he would need ear-plugs to block out the din, Kibirige joked: “Something like that, yeah. I am sure there will be a lot of noise down there.

“We went down for the LV= Cup earlier in the season, and it was a great atmosphere. I love that personally, and it gets you going.”

Rested from England Under-20s’ win in Italy and missing the Falcons’ training camp in Gloucestershire last week in readiness for today, the winger is well aware what level of challenge awaits against a Cherry and Whites’ squad which sees the return of England pair Jonny May and Ben Morgan.

“It will be a physical battle down there, and we know that,” he said, Newcastle having won their last league visit to Kingsholm during Gary Gold’s attempt to stave off relegation at the end of the 2011-12 season. “That is the basis of pretty much every game of rugby, and winning that physical battle then gives you the foundation to do other things around the field.

In terms of being thrown in from the start against international-class opposition, he added: “I don’t want it any other way, to be honest.

“Any player wants to test themselves against the highest possible opponent they can, and that is how you learn about yourself and improve.

“We have done our homework on them, and we know it is a really tough place to go.

“We all thrive on that, and we don’t want to be travelling around having easy games.

“We know that is not going to happen, and we are looking forward to a great contest.” Still embroiled in a relegation fight with Worcester, who visit Kingston Park a week tomorrow, Kibirige is taking heart from recent contests despite not being burdened by the fact his side are just one loss away from equalling their worst ever run in the top flight.

“We are always looking forward not backward, and concentrating on the here and now,” he insisted.

“That said, the boys have taken a lot of confidence from some of the more recent games we have had.

“We put in good performances against the likes of Harlequins, Northampton and at times Leicester. “There were a lot of things we can build on within those games, and it has meant we are full of confidence going down to Gloucester.”

Journalists

David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer