Iyogun sets his sights on Exeter again after a special Saturday

If Carlsberg did sporting Saturdays, last Saturday was probably the best one ever for Manny Iyogun.

By Tom Vickers
Thursday, 3rd June 2021, 7:00 am
Manny Iyogun
Manny Iyogun

A big Chelsea fan who has recently been on loan at Bedford Blues, the prop had plenty of reasons to celebrate events elsewhere.

But the biggest moment for him to smile about came in front of the Carlsberg Stand at Franklin's Gardens on Saturday evening.

The youngster came off the bench, replacing role model Alex Waller during the second half of the game against Wasps, and earned the penalty that put the seal on a Saints win.

It was special snapshot in what was Iyogun's first Gardens appearance as a first-team player.

And the 20-year-old drank it all in, in front of 4,000 returning Saints supporters.

"It was a bit touch and go at the end but I'm happy I was able to seal the game and grab the win," said Iyogun, speaking at a Saints media day for the first time this week.

"I can only describe last Saturday as pretty sensational.

"My games last season weren't in front of crowds and having what felt like a packed crowd here was just amazing.

"I really enjoyed it."

Iyogun coming on for Waller, who was making his 300th Saints appearance, almost felt like a changing of the guard, even though the senior man still has plenty left in the tank yet.

And Iyogun has learned a lot from the player who scored the try that won Saints their first, and so far only, Premiership title back in 2014.

"Seeing such a legend of the club achieving what he's achieved can only be inspirational, the way he talks to the boys and carries himself around the club," Iyogun said.

"You can only look up to him and it's a real template for me to go and try to achieve what he's achieved."

Iyogun didn't see Waller's Twickenham heroics live but he has since watched it back.

He said: "I would have been about 14 at the time but I wasn't really in to rugby back then.

"I started playing rugby but I wasn't watching it as religiously as I did a few years in the future.

"I've watched it back now and I've realised how momentous it was for the club.

"I was a big football guy, a big Chelsea supporter.

"Obviously we won last weekend, Bedford won (against Ampthill in the Championship) and Chelsea won (the Champions League final) so it was a really good day on Saturday."

Waller has paid Iyogun plenty of compliments publicly, but not privately it seems, preferring to keep the young player on his toes.

"He definitely doesn't say it to my face but the way he invests his time in me is good," Iyogun said.

"He definitely looks after me and gives me the tips and tricks of the game and it helps me out a lot.

"I can only be appreciative."

Like Waller, Iyogun has made the conversion from back row forward to prop during his Saints Academy days.

He explained: "I was a No.8, big ball carrier, never got my head stuck in a ruck, just carry, carry, carry.

"Coming into my senior career, (Saints Head of Academy) Mark Hopley thought it would be better to see me as a prop, a more powerful ball-carrying forward, and it's ended up rewarding me pretty well.

"In my first pre-season it was very tough and I put on up to 15kg of body weight, which is actually very hard to carry.

"But the S&C guys are great, they help me massively in terms of diet so it's been a hard but smooth transition.

"It's just about getting more powerful and more speedy.

"I struggled quite a lot physically my first season here so it was good to touch base with other players and they tell you it's not going to be that hard for ever."

Iyogun burst onto the Saints scene last season, helping the club out in a time of real need.

They were beset by an injury crisis at loosehead before their big Champions Cup quarter-final at Exeter Chiefs, prompting Iyogun to step up and start.

And he allayed all fears by delivering a huge showing that completely belied his inexperience at the top level.

"I tried my best to block the noise outside the game out," he said.

"I know there was a lot of talk about me in particular, but I just tried to give a good account of myself.

"I know Boydy (Saints boss Chris Boyd) and the coaching staff trust me so I just tried to do my best to reward that trust.

"It was definitely a test of the lungs but when you're actually in the game you enter a state of flow.

"When you come off, you look at the clock and you've done 70, 75 minutes and you're just like 'how have I managed to do that?', but I enjoyed it."

Iyogun helped to win a big penalty at the scrum just before coming off, prompting loud cheers from his team-mates at Sandy Park.

Saints would eventually lose the game, but Iyogun was a winner nevertheless as it gave him the confidence that he could perform at the top level.

"Games like that only breed confidence, and in my position and at my age, confidence is priceless," Iyogun said.

"The fact you've competed with some of the best teams is something you can take into other games."

And now Iyogun sets his sights on Exeter again at the Gardens on Sunday.

"I'm really looking forward to it," he said.

"Crowds will be here again, the weather is set to be lovely and we'll look to give a really good account of ourselves."

Iyogun's family will look on with real pride once again.

And he added: "My family has helped me a lot.

"When I was playing for England Under-20s last year they travelled out to France and surprised me.

"They're always by my side and cheering me on, which is really nice."