Sale boss Alex Sanderson hails 'astonishing' impact of Opoku-Fordjour

Sale boss Alex Sanderson hails ‘astonishing’ impact of Asher Opoku-Fordjour, 19, in his first three senior games… with England star Joe Marler also praising the ‘exciting’ prop

  • Asher Opoku-Fordjour is causing a stir after just three appearances for Sale
  • He moved to Sale last autumn following the abrupt collapse of Wasps
  • The 19-year-old has more than held his own against renowned opposition

Saled are torn between excitement at the ‘astonishing’ feats of their new, teenage prop prospect – and not wanting to make him a target due to premature hype.

Just three games into his senior professional career, Asher Opoku-Fordjour is rapidly making a name for himself. After a starring role for England Under 20s at the junior World Cup last summer, the 19-year-old has burst to prominence in the last few weeks, with eye-catching cameo appearances in the Sharks’ 1st XV – earning acclaim from Joe Marler and a raft of new admirers.

What is causing such a stir is that Opoku-Fordjour appears to possess a remarkable repertoire at such a young age. The rookie started out as a wing at Kenilworth RFC and moved to Sale last autumn following the abrupt collapse of Wasps, where he had come through the ranks. His background in the back line is evident in his explosive running, footwork and off-loading ability. There is innate X-factor in him.

But he is also showing signs of formidable strength and resilience, allowing him to handle the set-piece staples of his role. 

Normally, props take time to develop their scrummaging craft and can be easy prey for experienced rivals, but so far, Opoku-Fordjour has more than held his own, against renowned opposition.

Asher Opoku-Fordjour is causing a stir just three games into his senior professional career

He enhanced Sale’s pack on his Premiership debut against Newcastle, then withstood the challenge of going toe-to-toe with Marler at Harlequins and helped to win a series of scrum penalties against a vaunted Stade Francais pack. 

That last appearance, on Sunday, saw him earn a loud ovation after an temporary early stint as a Head Injury Assessment replacement, and the congratulations of team-mates for his second-half efforts in Sale’s 28-5 victory.

After that latest promising performance, his director of rugby, Alex Sanderson, responded to the acclaim for the emerging front-row sensation, by saluting his set-piece impact. ‘That’s the main thing, as a tighthead; your bread and butter is the scrum,’ he said.

‘People are making a noise about him. I’ve been trying to say, “What has he done?”. He’s come on against Newcastle and done well, then he came on against Quins – against a tiring Joe Marler – and did well.

‘But he had to come on 10 minutes into a game this week, against the best scrum in the Top 14. Stade have the most dominant scrum in the Top 14 and they scrum through their loosehead. So his ability to stay in that fight; stay square at tighthead, not take the gap early and win penalties… it is quite astonishing.

‘He is doing things that I haven’t seen 18 or 19 year olds do before. That’s just in the scrum and then you look at his power. He is a prop with fast twitch; a tighthead with fast twitch. You just don’t get them. They are as rare as teddy bear s**t! So I’m dead chuffed for him.

The 19-year-old has burst to prominence with eye-catching cameo appearances for Sale

‘We have given him the opportunity but he is stacking up. From Newcastle to Quins and now in the Champions Cup. Where is his limit? I don’t think we have even seen it yet. We are making that noise about him because I think he deserves it. Obviously we want to keep him moving forward, but I think he is having a good time and enjoying himself here. Yeah, we have found a cracker there.’

There is a wider significance here, amid a dearth of pedigree young English tightheads. Dan Cole was England’s first-choice at the end of the World Cup, but he is 36. Kyle Sinckler lost his status as the pre-eminent No 3 and Bristol face a fight to stop him joining Toulon at the end of this season. Will Stuart is the other established prop on that side who is going well at Bath, but elsewhere the options are limited, especially as Leicester’s Joe Heyes has struggled to usurp Cole for club and country.

No-one is suggesting that Opoku-Fordjour is going to earn a Test call-up just yet, but there is no doubt that Steve Borthwick and England scrum coach Tom Harrison will be paying close attention. For now, Sale are keen to avoid setting their new prodigy up for a fall.

Forwards coach Dorian West – part of England’s World Cup-winning squad in 2003 – heralded his raw potential but also warned that he is still working out his role. 

‘You don’t get players as strong as him very often who are that young,’ he said. ‘That is something; just the fact that he has been able to hold his own against two scrums in the last two weeks, or not just hold his own – he’s done pretty well. It shows that he is on the right course to be a pretty good player.

‘He has natural strength, he works hard and he’s in good shape. He’s mobile and gets around the pitch as well. He’s played against a couple of decent players and done really well. He’s got the basics of what he needs; that power to be able to hold his shape in the scrum. He has to find the technique that suits him and keep repping it in practice, to give him a chance to move forward.’

Opoku-Fordjour also has rare front-row versatility, as he packed down at loosehead for the England Under 20s and at tighthead for Sale. But the club are determined to be patient with his development – despite knowing they have a special talent on their hands. ‘I don’t want to make him a target,’ said West. ‘He is still learning. We probably talk to him about technique more than we do to any other prop at the moment.

Sale boss Alex Sanderson has hailed the ‘astonishing’ impact of Opoku-Fordjour

‘We don’t want to build him up too much, so everyone starts thinking, “Right, I’m going to prove a point against him”. Everyone has seen his last couple of performances and they’ll be talking about him. That’s fine. Everyone will be watching what he is doing because he is doing remarkably well, but he has just started so he has plenty to improve on.

‘It is exciting though. He is a prospect, isn’t he? He is exciting and he could be the real deal in a few years, but he still has plenty to work on.’

Opoku-Fordjour certainly made an impression when he locked horns with Marler. The veteran England loosehead said: ‘There is a young tighthead who has come off the bench for Sale. I have got a big thing about up-and-coming front-rowers. This guy, No 18, I like the look of.’

On the back of Marler’s tribute, the official England Rugby account on X (formerly Twitter) released a post showing Opoku-Fordjour blasting through for a try against Ireland at the Under 20 World Cup. The caption read: ‘A serious talent. Asher Opoku-Fordjour is already making his mark on @premrugby at the age of 19 after shining for England U20 men in the summer.’

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