Zach Kibirige on right path for Newcastle Falcons

If you don’t like stories about talented young local sportsmen doing well in the world, then turn away now

Teenage rugby star Zach Kibirige
Teenage rugby star Zach Kibirige

If you don’t like stories about talented young local sportsmen doing well in the world, then turn away now.

Especially if they are straight-A students with grounded personalities, like Newcastle Falcons’ Zach Kibirige.

Before his 18th birthday last autumn the Middlesbrough-born winger had already made his first-team debut for the Falcons, scoring a sensational try against Cross Keys at Kingston Park before breezing through his maiden press conference like he had done it a million times before.

His league debut just a few weeks later produced similarly prolific results, and by the time he played his last game of the season the flying teenager had still scored in every single senior appearance, including a cup final.

Starring for the England Under-18s side, he popped up to score the winning try at Twickenham for Yarm School in the final of the Daily Mail Vase, the national competition, and was quick to put his name to a new two-year deal with the Falcons. While all of this was going on he was still completing his A-Level studies, and when he opened the envelope the results were as good as he had hoped.

A-grades in psychology, PE and biology were enough to set him up for a degree course in psychology, although the beaming back will take a year out from academia to make his mark on the Aviva Premiership.

As positive tales go it is hard to imagine better, and the egos afflicting contemporaries in other sports have been mercifully absent from Kibirige’s personal success story.

“I don’t find it hard to stay grounded, to be totally honest,” he says, blessed with speed like a sprinter, plus the timing and handling required to turn athletic ability into rugby excellence.

“All I have done is take the first step on what I hope will be a very long journey, and it is just one day at a time. I will enjoy it and be humble about it, and my school-mates have been great with me.

“They love coming to watch the games and giving me support when I get on, but other than that I am just one of the lads when I am with them. There is nothing different about me, and that is what I love about my group of friends. I can get out of the rugby environment and just chill out with them, knowing they will treat me the same as everybody else.”

The Falcons’ hierarchy sees two changing rooms at Kingston Park during training, the first-team room for senior pros and regular starters, and the smaller equivalent down the corridor for the whipper-snappers and wannabes.

Kibirige knows he is years away from making the 10-metre journey and claiming his peg, admitting: “Yeah, I am still in the young lads’ changing room, and just keeping my head down.

“The senior guys are all so helpful in terms of welcoming me into the squad and keeping me right, and they are always on hand with advice or willing to answer any questions I might have. They are there all the time for me.” Adjusting to full-time training and the demands on his body, the teenage flyer is quick to highlight the part played by those who have got him to where he is – most notably his school coaches.

“Stuart Hardy and Chris Webb at Yarm School have coached me all the way through, and been a massive influence on me,” he said.

“Mark Laycock and Jimmy Ponton in the Falcons’ academy have also played a big role, and more recently the senior coaches and players have had their input.”

Suitably upbeat about Newcastle’s prospects in their Premiership return, Kibirige added: “I am confident and excited – expecting big things.

“We will go into every game looking to give it our all, and we can definitely turn some heads.”

Journalists

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