The ‘Beast’ Chisanga living up Falcons dream
Joshua Chisanga is known as the ‘Beast’ in rugby circles for a reason. He is an imposing player; standing six feet and two inches tall besides tipping the scales at 115 Kg.
The 23 year-old is definitely the ideal rugby player in every sense; especially when he displays his remarkable ball carrying skills and the carnage he leaves in his wake once he gains momentum on the pitch.
These abilities have enabled him to realize his dreams sooner than expected by securing a professional contract with the Newcastle Falcons in the United Kingdom; becoming the first Kenyan to play in England’s top rugby union league, the Aviva Premiership.
“I kept pinching my arm, just to make sure I wasn’t dreaming, I called one of my brothers to ask them where I was,” Chisanga told Citizen Digital from his new home in Jesmond, Newcastle, an affluent suburb with a picturesque array of terraced houses.
He was given a one and a half-year contract by the Premiership club and his career has definitely come full circle.
The notion that he would be playing rugby professionally in England was unfathomable several years ago. It’s the culmination of a dream that fueled his drive to play with zeal at both club and national level ever since he took an interest in the oval ball.
Like most rugby players in the country, Chisanga caught the fever in high school at Hanna International School in Kampala, Uganda.
His physique was perfect for the game and he was a natural on the pitch, bullying opponents with his brute force. As a foreigner, he knew he needed to bring something special to the game to hold down a slot in the team.
“It was hard making a name in the team because everybody else was Ugandan. When I got a chance to try out for the team, I made the squad and I was the only Year Nine student to play on the first team,” he fondly remembers.
The fourth born in a family of five returned to Kenya after completing his studies and had a short stint with the University of Nairobi (UoN)’s Mean Machine.
“Being at Machine was a mistake. I heard Homeboyz RFC train at UoN and so I went there with a friend for training only that on that day it was Machine training,”Chisanga revealed.
Despite the mix-up, he played two games for the University side but when the opportunity arose to join his club of choice, Chisanga made the move to Homeboyz, a club founded and owned by a music company where he could also pursue his second passion, sound engineering.
Homeboyz won the Kabeberi Sevens in 2013 and in the following year, Chisanga’s abilities on the pitch caught the eye of national team selectors. He was called up to the 15s squad and participated in the Vodacom Cup, a second tier rugby league in South Africa.
He played in the Elgon Cup and was also part of the team that narrowly missed qualifying for the 2015 Rugby World Cup in England.
Nonetheless, Chisanga’s powerful runs and aggressiveness on the pitch against professional sides marked him out as a player with the potential to play in the top flight.
“Many of us were seen, many of us were approached for opportunities out there. So that tells you something,” he noted as he struggled to find his way up the sporting ladder.
Unfortunately, no professional deal materialized as he grappled with injuries before recovering and managing to inspire Kenya to memorable victories against Spain and Portugal in Nairobi during the international Test series in 2015.
During Kenya’s 36-27 triumph over the Spanish, Chisanga was named the Most Valuable Player. This accolade against a top European side was arguably one of the main reasons his agent recommended him to several professional teams in the United Kingdom.
The Newcastle Falcons were impressed by Chisanga’s CV and invited him for trials in England. He ticked all the right boxes and made the cut, penning the 18-month deal.
“ It felt like a dream, it felt great, it got me going,”he said.
Adapting to the professional environment has been a gradual process that required patience, hard work, resilience and drive.
“You have a lot of time to work on your weaknesses, you receive a lot of attention from the coaching staff and they are always available for one on ones,” Chisanga revealed.
“Being exposed to a new language in both attack and defense I have really grown in both parts of the game. It was difficult to adapt for the first few weeks but then I got accustomed to it.”
Chisanga made his debut in the Aviva A- League game against Gloucester and scored twice.
“The win-felt good; the two tries felt better, thanks God for that,” he reflected.
Playing professionally has its perks; aside from earning a living from the game in England, Chisanga cherishes playing with some of the top players from around the world.
At Falcons, he admits that he was star-struck when he met the game’s superstars such as the Tuilagi brothers from Samoa; Alesana and Anitelea.
“It felt good meeting them. I used to watch them (on TV) through my high school career and after. Big inspiration.”
The team also has a sprinkling of players from top playing rugby nations in the world such as New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, England, Tonga and Argentina.
The squad also has former USA sevens and 15s star, Todd Clever in its ranks. Life in Newcastle has definitely been a learning experience for Chisanga adapting to the culture, weather and time differences.
“Life here is great, the people of Newcastle are very nice, ”he reflects.
Homesickness creeps in once in a while but he is in constant contact with his family in Kenya on a regular basis. The Kenyan cuisine is also definitely something he misses in his daily diet.
Chisanga reveals that he will be available for international duty later this year if the Kenya 15s technical bench requires his services.
He hopes to be a permanent feature at Newcastle targeting to continue his growth as a player and possibly secure an extension to his contract.
His team barely survived relegation from the Premiership despite losing their closing game of the season with a 23-14 defeat at Saracens.
Dean Richards admitted he was a relieved man after Falcons secured their Premiership future in a game Marcus Watson’s double saw them go into half-time 14-3 ahead before two scores for Jackson Wray and another for Maro Itoje turned the game around.
The result ensured Sarries will finish the regular season top of the table – while the Falcons’ survival was also guaranteed even in defeat.
Their win over fellow strugglers London Irish a fortnight earlier had gone all-but clinched safety, but Richards was pleased to get the job done.
When asked if he was relieved, the Falcons’ director of rugby replied: “Yes I suppose but at the end of the day, all along we’ve been looking at our performance.”
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