EXCLUSIVE: Asher Opoku-Fordjour - England's Next Break-Out Prop - Ruck

EXCLUSIVE: Asher Opoku-Fordjour – England’s Next Break-Out Prop

Poised to emerge in England’s future front row, 19-year-old prop Asher Opoku-Fordjour certainly has time on his side. Adaptable to play on both the loose and tight-head of the scrum, Sale Sharks have a gem on their hands who could well become the cornerstone of England’s pack of tomorrow.

As England’s props continue to move towards the end of their international careers, it won’t be long until Opoku-Fordjour’s breakthrough with the new school of talents. With Dan Cole and Joe Marler entering their career twilights, and Kyle Sinckler set to depart for pastures new in Toulon, England’s front row ranks could look considerably thinner in the coming season or two. Thankfully for England fans, Opoku-Fordjour is a talent on the rise and is consistantly improving in the England U20s set-up.

Packing down the young-gun scrum with Bath and Northampton prospects Billy Sela and Craig Wright, Asher is amongst the most talked about young players in the England U20s. The Sale man is enjoying his time in the player pathway, but looks no further than his former teammate Chandler Cunningham-South, for a realistic inspiration on how to make the jump into the senior England set-up. Speaking exclusively to Ruck, Asher discussed this amongst his ultimate career goals.

“It gives you belief and hope for you in the England U20s, that you can actually go into the first team, and it just shows that it’s possible and it can be done.”

“I feel like everyone’s dream is to play for for their country, mine being England so yeah, whatever opportunity comes, I’m going to take it and hopefully it’s soon.”

“Everyone’s dream is to play for England, Lions squad (too), yeah, that’s definitely in there.”

The Sale man has had an unorthodox journey, before breaking through at the AJ Bell. Born in Coventry, Opoku-Fordjour earliest academy pursuits came with Worcester’s development squad, before the Warriors let him go in a ruthless round of cuts. This only fuelled the fire inside of the prop, who was later picked up by the Wasps academy.

Opoku-Fordjour loved his time at the Ricoh Arena, before the unfortunate collapse of Wasps displaced him into the deep waters of free agency. Thankfully, the England age-group star did not have to tread water for long, as he was snapped up by the Sharks and resurfaced for a new home in the North West.

“I was in the (Worcester Warriors) DPP (Development Player Programme). They were selecting boys to go into the academy, and I just didn’t get selected. That gave me a bit of motivation to keep working and get somewhere.”

“I went to (England) Counties, and then I think from from there, I got picked up by Wasps.”

“So at the start I was pretty upset (Wasps’ collapse) and leaving all the boys or the coaches that helps you get to where you want to get too, but after a couple of weeks, you know you need to crack on. You need to find another club and keep working hard to eventually get another club.

“So yeah, it took me like two weeks and then I was in Sale, and it teaches you how you have to be able to adapt, because I was at Wasps for the main part of my development career so I learned all this stuff from Wasps. Then you have to go into a new environment and learn all of that really quickly.”

“Yeah, everyone was really nice (at Sale Sharks). Everyone welcomed me pretty well. And yeah, just settled in into the changing rooms, all the lads were lovely.”

Asher is steadily establishing himself amongst the Sale propping ranks, after cutting his teeth on senior rugby through some brutal loan spells. The prop discussed his ventures to Stourbridge and Sedgley Tigers, in what was a definitive learning curve in his professional development. Speaking on the unique toughness nature of the men’s game lower down the rugby pyramid, Opoku-Fordjour said;

“Set piece was the main one, I think. Obviously, you’re scrummaging against boys your age (in academies), And it’s not that hard compared to when you first come up against the bigger boys, or old, old boys as well, that that know the dark arts. You have to pick up stuff quick. And learn quick. And yeah, sometimes you do get filled in but that’s just learning.”

“100% I wanted to show that (prove a point). But I was told that it’s going to be so hard you’re going get like, dished up every game. But I wanted to prove that that’s not going to happen. But I did get dished up, but I did still have that mindset of not wanting it to happen.”

Opoku-Fordjour was promptly recalled back to the Sale squad, as he made his debut for the club in the opening round of the 2023/24 Premiership Rugby Cup. Running out for the entire second half against Bedford Blues, Asher began his time in Sharks colours with a strong 47-12 win back in September. Opoku-Fordjour then bided his time in the North West, before his Premiership debut came calling in November, as he made a replacement appearence in the latter stages against Newcastle Falcons.

“Yeah, I think I still had the same mindset of wanting to prove everyone wrong, as I’m still young, but I can do this. I can play at the highest level, so I think I had the same mindset.”

“It didn’t feel real. I can’t even remember what happened now, to be fair. I was in a zone and when I came on it felt like, what has happened? So happy, a special moment.”

Asher’s continued progression earned him a spot on the bench, when the Sharks ventured into Europe for this season’s Champions Cup pool stages. Waiting in the wings during the clash with Stade Francais, Opoku-Fordjour was called into action sooner than expected, as he made a replacement appearence on the 33rd minute, as tight-head prop Nick Schonert was forced to withdraw.

“Yeah, that was that one was a bit different. Because someone got a head knock early on, in the first half. So when I seen him go down my heart was racing. And then I was like, ‘yeah, here we go’. I did all right. For the first (scrum) I got a scrum penalty, and I made a line break. And for the first 50 minutes (for Sale) it was a good feeling.”

Looking around the changing room at the AJ Bell, and Asher has plenty of sounding boards that he can pick up tricks of the trade. With the likes of England internationals Bevan Rodd and Luke Cowan-Dickie occupying the front row ranks, Opoku-Fordjour is in good company for getting feedback when it comes to his set-piece work. This is only improving the young talent, as he discussed his chats with Sale’s other older props;

“Yeah, Nick Schonert and Sam McIntyre. They’re the older boys that play tight and loose (head props). They’re always around me giving me advice, helping me out whenever I need it.”

“I wouldn’t say I was in the focus. But yeah, I do like pressure. I do you like the pressure and how I feels in how it helps me perform as well.”

Turning his attention to his England U20s teammates, and Opoku-Fordjour lines up in the front row with Bath prop Billy Sela and Northampton hooker Craig Wright. Despite predominantly packing down the scrum at tight-head for Sale, Asher is shifted across to the loose-head spot for his England age group duties. The versatile scrummager discussed how he prefers life in the number three jersey, and is enjoying the run of three consecutive wins, so far in the 2024 U20 Six Nations.

“It’s been going really well. We help each other a lot. But I played a better tight-head. He (Billy Sela) knows what it feels like to go against like a good loose-head. And then Craig… Craig is just Craig, so we’ve been helping each other and we’ve been building. We seem to be getting stronger so, it’s all that matters really.”

“I think as well it’s (playing both loose-head and tight-head) just sort of good for my development really. You get to experience both sides and get to feel what’s right and what doesn’t feel as good. Yeah, I think it’s all good stuff really. I wouldn’t pay any negatives towards it.”

“I’d probably say the three jersey, that’s where I want to be long term. Depending on what opportunity comes up I’m happy to keep going in between.”

“Yeah, it’s exciting times. You know, the boys have been playing well together. But we just getting better as we go on. So yeah, it’s exciting.”