Name the England international who began his career at Chelsea and scored at West Ham last Saturday? The answer is Alex Lozowski, the multi-talented all-rounder now plying his trade in Saracens’ midfield. Not many can claim to have played football against Harry Kane and Jack Wilshere (albeit at academy level), scored a Test try for England at Twickenham and, courtesy of last weekend’s win over Harlequins, tasted success in the Olympic Stadium as well.Still only 25, the versatile Sarries centre, who spent six years in Chelsea’s academy, has also been involved in grander European occasions than Saturday’s Champions Cup quarter-final against Glasgow. As a precocious footballing kid, for example, he was pitchside for classic European duels against Barcelona and Liverpool as part of Chelsea’s efforts to fast-track their best young prospects.
“As a 10-year-old I’d be sent to Stamford Bridge on a Tuesday night to be a ball boy because they wanted you to soak up the atmosphere. When I was there they were always banging on about producing players to win the Champions League. I definitely believe those experiences have helped me to know what it takes to be a professional.”
Fast forward 15 years and Chelsea’s former manager José Mourinho would be impressed by how Lozowski has turned out: intelligent, mature, unselfish, dedicated to his chosen craft.
I’ve not given up on the World Cup, of course not. There’s obviously a lot of work to do but I’m not chucking the towel in yet
The reason he was rejected by Chelsea at 16 – for being too small – has not, ironically, stopped him reaching the top in rugby. As a late developer – with a CV that also features an economics degree from Leeds University – he is precisely the kind of smart player every good coach yearns for.
“When I was at Wasps, I was coached by the former Wales fly-half Stephen Jones who taught me so much about the game. He’d often say: ‘It’s a thinking man’s game.’ I’ll never forget that.”
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Read moreBy Lozowski’s own admission, though, this has not been the smoothest of seasons, even before last Saturday’s hiccup when he kicked the ball dead thinking it was half-time only for the referee to insist there was one second left on the clock, giving Quins possession and resulting in a try for Danny Care.
Last autumn, infamously, he was the recipient of two citings following Saracens’ bad-tempered pool game against Glasgow at Scotstoun, the only player from either team to be charged. He was subsequently found guilty of a dangerous clear-out and cleared of a dangerous tackle, only for both decisions – after myriad hearings - to be reversed on appeal and a four-week ban imposed. “I don’t think anyone’s ever been cited twice in one game,” he says, clearly still less than impressed. “That was a bit of a surprise.”
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Lozowski scores a try for Saracens in the Premiership at Leicester earlier this season. Photograph: Matthew Impey/Rex/Shutterstock
AdvertisementThere were also untimely repercussions for his England career. As well as being forced to miss out on England’s autumn Tests against South Africa and New Zealand, it left him a shade too desperate to make an impact against Japan the following week. Sod’s law intervened once more: normally a good tackler, one costly miss on Ryoto Nakamura and Japan’s subsequent half-time lead prompted Eddie Jones to haul him off at the interval.
Since then he has not featured in an England matchday squad, although Jones will be in attendance for the Glasgow game. With Henry Slade, Jonathan Joseph, Manu Tuilagi and Ben Te’o currently ahead of him, the England management wants to see him impose himself more on games if he is to make the World Cup squad for Japan. “I’ve not given up, of course not. There’s obviously a lot of work to do but I’m not chucking the towel in yet. I’ve got a clear picture in my own head of what I’ve got to do. If that’s good enough, great. If it’s not at least I can say I’ve given it my best shot.”
To date he has five caps – England have won each time, incidentally – which is four more than his father Rob, capped once in 1984, ultimately collected. Lozowski senior was the son of Polish and Italian immigrants who met in a church in Ealing and subsequently made their life together in the UK. There was a point when Italy tried to recruit Lozowksi junior but from an early age all he wanted to do was emulate his dad and play for England.
As a group I think the big games bring out the best in us. Everyone knows it's the last-chance saloon
That ambition clearly still burns, despite his recent travails. “In my short career it’s been plain sailing up until this season. I suppose every player goes through a season that challenges them; there are always going to be road blocks and obstacles to overcome. This season has been full of them for me and I’d be the first to admit I’ve not played my best. There’s more in me for sure and I’m feeling like I’m getting there. There’s always that ambition to get to the next level. If you don’t feel you’re getting there, that can be frustrating but It’s all relative. Maybe other people would think my bad days are good days. If ever I’m moaning about feeling sore after a game, dad will say: ‘You don’t know how lucky you are to be a professional sportsman. I’m on the train every morning at 7am.’”
The Breakdown: sign up and get our weekly rugby union email.That sense of privilege will be reinforced next week when Saracens head off for their latest recreational mini-break, this time to St Anton in Austria for a spot of tobogganing and team bonding. Their Alpine high spirits, however, will be much diluted if they lose to Glasgow and miss out on their sixth European semi-final in seven years. There is certainly no love lost between the two teams, with Scotland’s thrilling Calcutta Cup fightback at Twickenham also fresh in everyone’s memory. “As a group I think the big games bring out the best in us,” suggests Lozowski. “Everyone knows it’s the last-chance saloon: if you don’t turn up with your best 80 minutes of rugby it’s not going to be good enough.”
AdvertisementAccording to their quietly competitive centre, Saracens will also not be backing away from the fight. “It comes down to physicality a lot of the time. You have to be in a place mentally where you’re ready to go to places that are likely to be violent. You have to have that edge about you. In these kind of games every one of those collisions counts. That’s what we’ve been talking about this week. We’re going to have to bring our most physical game.”