Adam Radwan 'proud' of Egyptian roots as he continues to take English rugby by storm

Newcastle Falcons winger called into 45-man squad for England's autumn internationals. He discusses overcoming setbacks, ambitions for the future, and his appreciation of his Egyptian heritage

Once in a while an athlete emerges and it is clear that a special talent has been uncovered, one with the ability to grip the public consciousness. In short, they are box office.

British tennis sensation Emma Radacanu, who won the US Open as a qualifier this month, falls into that category. So too does Adam Radwan, the proud son of an Egyptian father from Port Said, who on his international debut for England at Twickenham in July scored a hat-trick of tries.

Radwan, Yorkshire born and bred but with an appreciation and pride in his Egyptian heritage, is a player of such prodigious talent that Dean Richards, the head coach at his club Newcastle Falcons, describes him as "unique". And the former England forward is not a man prone to hyperbole.

“When he sticks to scripts and the opportunities open up he has got the gas to be able to take them,” Richards said. “When there is broken play he again has got the gas and the feet to create something out of nothing.

“It’s not just about the speed, it’s the ability to be able to step. He has also got the top-end speed. Not many have that. He is quite a unique character in that respect. The great thing is there is so much more to come from him. If he realised his potential he will be a hell of a player – not that he is not already.”

Whenever the 23-year-old winger receives the ball, that combination of phenomenal natural speed and electric footwork sends a ripple of expectation and anticipation around the ground.

“I am aware of the crowd’s reaction and I feed off it,” Radwan said. “I love the crowd, the atmosphere – the louder the better.”

There are already several YouTube videos of Radwan shredding defences, laying waste to opponents, and scoring tries for fun. His footwork in tight spaces is extraordinary.

The top half of his body will move one way, his legs the other, like an agitated marionette. He often doesn’t know what will happen next. Sheer instinct takes over and in a blur defences are left grasping at thin air.

Asked what goes through his mind when sprinting at top pace, he replied: “I couldn’t tell you! My legs just take over and I just run. There are times when I know what I am going to do when I get the ball. There are times when I am making decisions without thinking about it."

He has never been timed over 100 metres but one estimate suggests that when that happens, then the clock will stop at around 10.60 seconds. In rugby, though, the emphasis is on explosive pace over shorter distances.

When training with England in the summer, he was officially measured by GPS tracker as covering 10.85 metres per second - from a standing start. That’s more than 35 kmp/h.

Ironically, Newcastle almost let Radwan slip through the net. Having played as a teenager for junior teams in the north east of England, he was picked up by the club's academy but let go after a season. He went away and rebuilt himself and his confidence by playing sevens rugby and for a lower league club. Newcastle realised they had made a mistake and called him back, and in 2017 offered him a one-year contract.

“I never felt it was the end,” said Radwan of his early setback. “I still knew in my head that I was going to be a professional rugby player if I worked hard enough. I just wasn’t sure if it would be with Newcastle or how it would work it out. Being released was a big motivation – I knew what it was like on the other side and I didn’t want to be in that position again.”

He has been supported all the way by his parents, who met in Egypt when his mother went to visit. His father, Belal, played football in his youth, and his mother, Jane, runs ultra marathons. “Dad says he was dead quick when he was younger," Radwan said. "So it’s in the genes maybe.”

As a boy he would frequently visit Egypt to see relatives. The family business was in tailoring. “I haven’t been for a long time," he said. "I have family over there who I speak to often. I am proud of it. I can speak a bit of Arabic – a tiny bit."

His father who is a good cook, works as an interpreter and his mother in midwifery. “They have been great role models for me," Radwan said. "One of the nicest things about my England debut was they’d been used to watching me in Middlesbrough when I was 13 then for them to be able to watch me at Twickenham was special. We were warming up and I was looking around and just thinking I felt quite proud that I could give something back to them.

“I was 13 when I first played. I was staying at a friend’s house and couldn’t get home. My friend took me rugby training – and I loved it and kept going back. Once I had the ball I could run about. It was so different I had never had anything like it before. I took to it straight away."

On Sunday, Radwan links up with England in London as part of a 45-man training camp ahead of the autumn internationals against South Africa, Australia and Tonga. His appetite for the big time was whetted during the summer when he played for England against Canada.

“It was a really good time,“ he said. “I learnt a lot and the way it went couldn’t have finished any better. It is something I think about every day. It is a big motivation because I know I want to do it again and as often as possible.

“I do feel like I have a lot more to give. But you have got to stay level headed. I am aware a lot of my game needs work. I am aware I can take a few more steps forward and I know I have a lot more to give. It’s not getting too carried away and keep grafting. I mustn’t lose track of the fact that the most important thing is to play well for Newcastle. That will give me an opportunity or England.

“I am very focused. If I want to achieve what I am capable of I have to concentrate and stay in the now and not get too wrapped up in what could happen in a year’s time, two years’ time.”

Radwan might not be a household name in Egypt, where rugby is in its infancy with a federation only established four years ago. There are 12 clubs and the game is slowly taking root. That growth could be accelerated, though, as Radwan continues his rapid rise to the top of English rugby.

Updated: September 25th 2021, 10:35 AM
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