“It’s been a tough road, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.” We talk to London Irish fan favourite Lovejoy Chawatama
In their recent run of wins a lot of light has been shone on London Irish’s superstars and their academy graduates. But there’s an equally important, and often overlooked, factor to consider too. Their starting props, both signed from the Championship, have shown there is more than one route to success. I caught up with fan favourite Lovejoy Chawatama to get his view on the season.
Those who haven’t really spoken to him would be forgiven for believing Chawatama to be a happy-go-lucky guy. He’s the sort of player who always makes time for the fans and he seems to be permanently happy so it’s an easy mistake. Beneath the cheery exterior is an incredibly driven athlete who has had to work harder than most to get to the spot he’s in now, locking down the 3 shirt for a Premiership team.
“I’ve worked so hard for these opportunities” Lovejoy tells me, “I have to credit Declan (Kidney) and all the coaches for showing support in me. They’ve given me the opportunity to play and now I’m trying to enjoy every moment I’m out there because with sport, it could be gone any minute. I go out and give my best for the team and I know every one of my teammates is doing the same thing.”
“It’s been a tough road, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. In the time I’ve been waiting for opportunities I’ve been working hard for everything and hopefully I’m showing that out there on the pitch.”
It must be strange, I think to look back on joining the Exiles when they were in the Championship when they now sit on the cusp of a Champions Cup place, but that drive shows through as Lovejoy stares me down across the zoom call. “I would never have joined London Irish if I didn’t believe in the ambitions of the club. We want to be where the club belong to be, we knew it would be a long process and I’ve had to be patient. Coming into the game after university, already in my twenties I’ve had to bide my time and keep learning from all the tightheads who have come through the club, building up my fitness and my skills to make sure that when an opportunity came, I was ready to take it with both hands.”
That patience, he says, has made him stronger mentally as much as it has allowed him to grow physically into his role. The passion in Chawatama’s voice when he speaks about striving to be the best version of himself on the pitch and off it is inspiring. He acknowledges that there weren’t many people who thought he could make it at this level, but he has proved any doubters wrong and made a fan base fall in love with him along the way.
His story echoes that of fellow prop Will Goodrick-Clarke, a Gloucester academy product who found himself let go and was playing at Richmond as an amateur before Irish picked him up. The two have formed something of a bond, hard-hitting props who are strong in the scrum but absolutely love getting stuck in around the field too. For all the big names in the squad it’s the astute signings like these that really show the progress this team has made.
This weekend Irish take on Sale Sharks and LJ is clear on what he expects from the opposition. “Sale away is always a good game. They’ve got a big pack, but they’re smart too. We don’t need to worry about what they do, we have to focus more on what we can do. As a pack we’ve started to get some respect in the Premiership and we just have to keep doing what we do and face it head on!”
It’s a strange time of year in general for London irish fans, for the second year in a row their flagship St Patrick’s Party can’t go ahead and, bar two thousand people at the home game against Sale – a game where the concessions and amenities were all closed, they’ve been unable to experience their superb new stadium either.
Lovejoy insists that their presence is felt though., even if they’re watching from home rather than sat in the stands.
I can’t let him go without asking one more question…. What exactly compelled him to shave his head? “Well I’d cut my dreadlocks off during lockdown and I was thinking of trying something new… I tried this Snapchat “bald” filter and well, it suits me so I thought let’s do it!” He laughs, showing there’s still a little bit of carefree alongside all that drive. He’s not the only one to change his style this season, his front row partner Will is working on an impressive mullet and no Prem Rugby fan can fail to have noticed Albert Tuisue’s yellow beard!