x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Odouza's bitter pill for Ryan

One of the brightest stars to emerge from England's Dubai Rugby Sevens campaign might quit the professional game to become a doctor.

England's Uche Oduoza, left, is tackled by Fiji's Vereniki Goneva during their match at the Dubai Rugby Sevens.
England's Uche Oduoza, left, is tackled by Fiji's Vereniki Goneva during their match at the Dubai Rugby Sevens.

DUBAI // One of the brightest stars to emerge from England's Dubai Rugby Sevens campaign at the weekend might quit the professional game in order to study to become a doctor. Uche Odouza, 22, the England winger, is currently playing club rugby on a lucrative contract in Japan.

His team, Suntory, snapped him up on the basis of a 50-second YouTube clip of his wonder-try for England against Fiji in the San Diego Sevens last season. He would appear to have the rugby world at his feet, yet he is debating whether to forsake it all in favour of a move into the medical profession. "I have some big decisions to make, based on whether I will continue to play rugby full time or go to university and study medicine," says the Manchester-born flyer.

"It is quite tough to become a rugby player and make it all the way to senior level, and you need to have some backing behind you, like a degree of some sort. "I'm trying to balance the two out to get a degree while playing full-time rugby. "I am doing an Open University course at the moment to try to keep my brain ticking over, because the more years you are out of school, the worse it gets." Odouza is nauseatingly talented. He runs the 100 metres in under 11 seconds, has represented English rugby at every age-group and is now one of the first names on the England sevens teamsheet.

In addition, Odouza, the son of a university lecturer father and pharmacist mother is a straight-A student. "And if you see him with his shirt-off, he has a chest which would scare young children," according to his England sevens coach, Ben Ryan. Despite only recently moving to Japan, he is already comfortable enough with the language that he can hold a conversation. "I'm speaking a few of the words, which is quite cool," he said. "I saw one of the referee's from Japan [at the Sevens] and had a quick conversation with him in the language."

He even does a nice line in modesty. Ryan's assertion that "a host" of Premiership club are keen to bring him back to England to play is more like "a couple", according to Odouza. "There are a couple of clubs interested in me, which I am obviously delighted about. I would love the chance to make it to the senior level with England, and make it to the Guinness Premiership, which I believe is the best league in the world."

Odouza will miss out on the second leg of the IRB World Series, in George, South Africa, as he has to return to Japan to play for Suntory, who also have the record-breaking ex-Wallabies scrum-half George Gregan in their ranks. However, he remains a firm part of Ryan's plans for the remainder of the campaign. "I was ecstatic when Ben offered me the chance to come to this tournament in Dubai, because I thought my sevens career might be over when I went to Japan," he said.

"But he kept faith with me and I will keep trying to repay that faith and keep working hard." Despite the lure of potential fame and fortune that comes with a career in sport, Odouza's parents are keen for him to continue with his studies. He added: "I think they are worried that I won't have a secure future. Rugby is a fickle sport - one day they love you, the next they don't. "Hopefully I can combine the two, and still push on and make the Guinness Premiership and the senior level."

England were forced to nurse Odouza through the Dubai Rugby Sevens due to an injury to his right knee which repeatedly flared up. It is a marker of the esteem in which he is a held by Ryan that he was handed a starting place in the final against South Africa, which England eventually lost 19-12, despite heavy strapping on his right leg. He was rested for the quarter- final against Argentina, but played a key role in the semi-final win over the defending champions New Zealand, setting up the first score with a clever reverse off-load, over his head.

He admits the New Zealand fixture had become something of a grudge match for England. "I heard the New Zealand coach Gordon Tietjens say that he didn't think we were going to win our first game [against the rugby minnows, Portugal]," he said. "We had that in the back of our minds all the way through. We are thinking that this is a new England and a new season for us, and we can go far. "We like to motivate ourselves. We believe England should be one of the best teams in this series and should be up there winning tournaments. That is our main drive.

"We'll carry on plodding away and doing the quiet work and hopefully we can surprise a few people." pradley@thenational.ae