After a few weeks chatting about the finer points of backs play we thought it was time to turn our attention to the pack again this week and who better to chat to than an absolute fan favourite? Always ready with a smile and happy to chat to fans, Lovejoy Chawatama also has one of the most interesting journeys to London Irish we’ve heard yet! @RugbyLI caught up with him last week and here’s what he had to say.
So let’s start off with something a little different… You were at coffee school on Wednesday which looked like fun. How was it?
Yeah, I loved it. We always get free time on Wednesdays so it’s good to get out there! The RPA give the boys opportunities to do something different.
I love my coffee! So we went out to learn how to make coffees which was good fun. The coffees were fairly easy to make but the art was hard work!
We were at London School of Coffee and it was a really good day out with the boys.
You lads must have been buzzing after drinking coffee all day long!
I tried to stay away from trying every coffee I made but yeah, sleep was a bit difficult that night!
Let’s look back a little now to the semi-final win over Carnegie. You’ve had quite a lot of game time in the cup including playing the full 80 at one point. How have you enjoyed that?
I’m really enjoying getting the opportunity to get out there and play. All the hard work I’ve been putting in over the last few years and through this season, it pays off when you put your hand up and the coaches can see what you’re about.
Obviously winning and going through to the final…. The coaches are big on us taking things game by game, but the opportunity to play in a cup final alongside a load of the young lads who have really excelled in those games and also to take this form into the back end of the Champ season is really huge for us.
This weekend we host London Scottish, what sort of game are you expecting from them?
We’ve got loads of respect for London Scottish… they’re the only team that have beaten Jersey both home and away so we’ll be expecting a tough physical battle but a quick game as well, they’re quite expansive.
As you know the coaches won’t ever look over a game to what is coming ahead so we’re taking it very seriously but coming out of a good semi-final win there’s a great atmosphere around the club and we’ll just try to perform to the best of our abilities!
You joined us from London Welsh and one thing I’ve noticed speaking to Josh and Barney who were also there is that the lads at that club all seemed to have interesting routes into rugby. How did you find your way into the professional game?
So I came to England as a 15 year old. I was playing rugby in Zimbabwe for Worcester College. When I came over I set myself the target of playing professional rugby. Having the best leagues here really helps and I had this dream to play professionally!
I called my uncle up as I had no idea where clubs were or how to go about joining one. He managed to find me a club where I lived which was only 15 minutes away from our house so I turned up as a 15 year old kid and Beckenham RFC welcomed me with open arms! I played there until I was 20 at amateur level in London Division 1, represented Kent under 20s and then I went to university.
I was playing in the back row in those days, I was at 6. At Kent u20s the coaches told me if I wanted to play professionally I should play at prop so I moved forward and I’ve never looked back since!
During university I was still travelling back and forth, playing for Beckenham but it got to be a bit too much from Bristol.
I never thought it would happen as it did for me, I’ve been pretty lucky with how it has turned out! I had a trial for England Students while I was still at university and from there I got picked up by London Scottish. Moving from an amateur to a professional environment was a big, big jump for me! I was just this raw strong kid with no fitness and I had to work hard to get to where I am.
The journey is still going but I’m enjoying it, I enjoy the challenges, the struggles… I’m always improving and learning!
You talked a little bit about fitness there, traditionally the scrum has been the meat and veg of a prop’s job but increasingly you need to be mobile too. Is that something you’ve worked on to change your own game?
I wouldn’t say they’ve changed the game for me but I’m always working and trying to get fitter. As you said the game has changed, it’s not all about scrummaging… As a prop now you’re expected to hit rucks, make carries and work off the ground. Look at Mako Vunipola or Kyle Sinckler, making like 20 tackles in 40 minutes, which is unheard of for a prop! That’s a couple of performances from some of the best players in the world so I’m always looking to see what they’re doing.
It’s been a long road, working with Rob Palmer and his staff (in strength and conditioning) and the coaches have helped loads! Its tough work but I enjoy it… you can’t just enjoy the scrummaging you have to get enjoyment out of the fitness and the rugby. Being a 6 I’ve always enjoyed carrying the ball and making dominant tackles wherever possible. Obviously helping the team win is the main thing though!
So you made the move to the front row and I tend to think of you as a tighthead but you’ve played loosehead too. Do you have any preference?
When I converted from the backrow I went to loosehead and then moved across to tighthead. So I am a 3 but I’m happy to play wherever the boss wants me to. The coaches have confidence in me playing both sides so I’ll keep doing that!
In the time you’ve been with us we’ve seen the likes of Ben Franks and Gordon Reid bring a lot of experience to the front row, not to mention Saia Fainga’a who has competed at the top level. How much have those guys helped your development?
It is amazing rubbing shoulders with internationals like them. For someone like me who didn’t come through an academy just the chance to pick their brains and see how they go about their day-to-day lives as professionals. I’ve learned a lot from those guys!
The St Patricks Party is coming up soon and this will be the third since you joined u. Are you looking forward to it?
Oh yeah, it’s a big day for the club and for the fans. They always come out in numbers and it’s amazing! I really appreciate the fans and all that they do for us each and every week, they’re always there for us. Should be a good game, it’s one of those you look for on the calendar and everyone wants to be involved in it with the history it carries!
It’s generally our biggest crowd of the season so that atmosphere must carry over onto the pitch too.
Yeah, always! No matter what the game though the fans are always there for us and we really appreciate that!
Our thanks to Lovejoy for giving up his time and to the club for their continued support and access!