An England rugby international has honoured a promise to his mum by completing his university studies and forging a career in engineering.
Former Wasps, Leicester, Nottingham and Biarritz centre Ayoola Erinle dropped out of his university pharmaceutical course at King’s College London to pursue his dream of playing professional rugby.
But to do so the 6ft 4ins 17 stone powerhouse made a pact with his mum Titi that he would return to his studies once his playing career, which saw him pick up two caps for England against Australia and the All Blacks in 2009, came to a halt.
And he did just that, returning to secure a First in a Physics and Engineering Integrated Masters at Loughborough University where his dissertation focussed on – perhaps unsurprisingly – analysing the aerodynamics of a rugby ball.
Ayoola recently started his first ‘real’ job as a graduate engineer at Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S), – the procurement arm of the Ministry of Defence that has its headquarters in Bristol.
“That was the deal,” Ayoola said.
“Me returning to university after my rugby career was a pact with my mum. She was very sceptical about me dropping out of university the first time around and I had to promise I would return to my studies as soon as my rugby career was over.
“I said I would go back to university and get a First – thankfully I made good on that promise.”
While Ayoola’s says his rugby career now seems a long time ago he enjoyed excellent success with both Wasps and Leicester, two of Europe’s finest teams in recent memory.
In 2009, after 15 minutes against the Australians, he found himself named, by the then England coach Martin Johnson, in the starting line-up that would face the mighty All Blacks.
“When I went to see Jonno after training before the All Black game I just assumed he was going to release me back to my club – I was genuinely in shock when he said I would be starting,” he said.
Facing Ayoola that day was some real quality including Ma’a Nonu, Dan Carter, Richie McCaw and Kieran Read – and he of course had to face down the Haka – New Zealand’s infamous war dance.
“Lining up opposite the Haka was a really out of body experience,” Ayoola said.
“It’s really hard to articulate how it feels. It’s not that it’s scary, more that it’s momentous. You feel part of history and lucky to be part of something very few people experience.”
Now at DE&S Ayoola is working for the Salvage and Marine Operations (SALMO) team.
“I’m getting the opportunity to write quality and risk assessments and meeting with contractors regarding engineering solutions which means visits to naval bases around the UK,” he said.
“I’ve visited a live ship wreck located off the coast of the Orkney Islands and was involved in hot tapping (the use of a tap to remove oil from leaking tanks on the vessel).
“DE&S is giving me the opportunity to accelerate my career by fast-tracking me to chartered engineer status. I’m hoping it will be a springboard to great things.”