Biyi Alo: “Aiming as high as I can”

Biyi Alo in his Saracens kit
Biyi Alo in his Saracens kit

Biyi Alo made his Premiership debut for Saracens in March of this year and he is certainly one of the bright prospects of English rugby, but he admits he had no thoughts about playing the game as a young schoolboy.

He might not have known it, maybe even before the season started, but Biyi Alo is certainly a rising star of English rugby.

In 2005, around the time the new academic year was about to commence, Alo joined a school where he was informed the main sport he would have to play would be rugby. It was a decision which a young 10-year old had to take after playing football up until that point.

“I went to Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School in Barnet which only plays rugby in the winter and cricket in the summer so I had to pick rugby and that’s how I got introduced to the game, says Alo. “I didn’t know much about rugby either.”

So, did you enjoy playing rugby or did you feel you were forced into playing it?

“‘Of course I enjoyed it, Alo adds. It was an interesting experience and a challenging one to play a game I didn’t grow up with.”

So the next step for Alo was to see if he could grow into the sport and give rugby a real go.

“At first, I wasn’t great at rugby but I stuck at it. At that age, you are just chucking the ball about and just messing about. That element drew me to the sport as did the physical side of it as I was quite a big 11 year-old, but I really started to enjoy it.”

Of course, it isn’t easy to get your teeth into a sport when you haven’t grown up playing and admiring the game, but even so, for a schoolboy to have taken that in his stride and look to improve rather than shying away, is quite something.

This was perhaps the first inkling that this young boy had his mind focused on striving to be the best and since his time at school and his experiences at county level with Hertfordshire, Alo has proved rather adept to playing a sport which wasn’t on his agenda.

We speak over the phone with his current club Saracens riding high at the top of the Aviva Premiership. To be part of a squad that won that title last season as well as the LV=Cup may have boosted the ego of a 21-year old star of the future, but Alo isn’t arrogant enough to expect success just to fall his way.

That was highlighted when he said it was privilege to be part of such a team. He openly admits he would be a fan of Saracens if he wasn’t playing for them.

But being just ‘a fan’ is not an option at this stage. “It is amazing to be part of this Saracens side at the moment, says the 130kg prop. “To have grown up in this area and come through with the academy lot, I am just fortunate to be in such a competitive side at a young age.

“I am learning a ridiculous amount at the moment and every scrummage session is a step forward. I didn’t start off too great  in the side when I was 18,19 as I was still struggling to get used to the environment and couldn’t really see the end of the tunnel, but they always said I would improve through repetition.

“Now I am improving a lot more and I am challenging them [Rhys Gill, Richard Barrington, Juan Figallo] as well as they are challenging me. Because of that, I am getting looks and pats on the back and sometimes when I get Rhys Gill really good he says: “Hey, what do you do that for!”, but he is always helping me learn and it spurs me on.

“It’s good to see that you can match yourself against these players on a Tuesday morning who are dominating the Premiership and even dominating Europe!”

It’s clear by just speaking to Alo that he takes nothing for granted. His attitude seems to be the same now as it was when he first picked up a ball playing in Barnet. He seems focused on working his way into the team and despite his rapid rise, he doesn’t expect to turn up each week and think he is going to play.

That rapid rise has included some achievements which are impressive for someone of Ola’s age. He has represented England at U17 and U18 level and was part of the U20 squad that lifted the Junior World Cup in New Zealand in 2014.

And that was only the beginning of a memorable campaign last season.

Ola went on to play a lot of A League rugby for Saracens and made his debut for the side in the LV=Cup against Harlequins in November where he then became an integral part of the team that went on to lift that trophy.

Five months down the line and against the same opposition, Alo came off the bench to make his Premiership debut in a 42-12 win.

But despite this glowing CV already at this stage of his career, Alo plays down what he has achieved so far in the game.

He adds: “Even though you have listed those things, I don’t feel like I have done that much! I am still so young because there is so much more that I want to do and feel that I can do.

“It starts with defining my skills and set piece which hopefully will lead to more Premiership rugby maybe this season, but definitely in seasons going forward as I want to be playing week in week out so I can make my mark.

“In terms of England, every young English rugby player has ambitions of playing for their country. If you didn’t, you are playing the game for the wrong reasons!

“For me, it’s one step at a time and at the moment I am just focusing on my game to help me play more first team rugby.”

While just getting his head down and working hard, Alo has unknowingly emphasised the way every young star, no matter what sport, should conduct themselves. For me, he is a great example of that and it signifies the promising future this athlete has in the game.