Adam Radwan’s former coach, Chris Hyndman, remembers the day well. He had invited a group of sporty teenagers from Middlesbrough to look around Hartlepool sixth form college but only one of them turned up. It was holiday time and, with no one else around, Hyndman decided he would assess his solitary visitor’s sprint potential in the corridor outside the sports hall.
Hyndman, once a professional player at Northampton, could scarcely believe his eyes. “We decided to do 20-30 metre sprints to give him enough space to slow down. His times were very, very impressive.” It reinforced the testimony of one of Hyndman’s teaching colleagues, who had recently seen the skinny Radwan playing in a local under-16s game. “He came back saying: ‘This kid is ridiculously quick.’”
Increasingly, everyone else is reaching that same exhilarating conclusion. Radwan is now a capped England player and the scorer of a hat-trick of debut tries against Canada this summer. Eddie Jones has even mentioned the flying Falcon’s name in the same sentence as South Africa’s Cheslin Kolbe and suggested he could develop into the world’s best wing. Dean Richards, Newcastle director of rugby, does not disagree: “He’s certainly got all the raw ingredients and the potential. He’s just got to go out there and realise it.”
For a modestly proportioned 23-year-old from gloriously mixed rugby stock – the grandson of an Egyptian tailor from Port Said and born in the village of Osmotherley on the edge of the North York Moors – these are hefty compliments. Not least because five years ago Newcastle declined to offer him a contract. “They said I wasn’t ready and, to be honest with you, I wasn’t. It stung massively at the time because it was everything I wanted. But even then I knew I was going to be a professional rugby player. I just didn’t know where I’d end up or how long it would take.”
How the 5ft 10in Radwan has bounced back from that painful rejection should be an object lesson to every late-developing 18-year-old. Sobre todo, he never forgot what the perceptive Hyndman had told him after one of their regular one-to-one sessions. “He sat me down and said: ‘You’ve got the potential to go very far but it’s probably going to take you a bit longer than everyone else.’ I’d definitely say that if it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
When his next chance arose, he was determined to grasp it. Having featured in a 99-7 win for Billingham against Firwood Waterloo in September 2016, he came off the bench two days later in Newcastle’s A league game against Leicester. One spectacular length-of-the-field try later and Richards was on the phone. “Radders” has not looked back, as Hyndman always hoped would happen.
“It’s very rare you see someone with his natural capabilities,” says Hyndman. “His pace, his agility … those things can’t be coached. When you gave him the ball in any kind of space he was just electric. The ability to change direction while still carrying speed is not something everyone can do. It doesn’t come around very often.”
Add in a strong desire to better himself and, even as a Billingham colt, his coach could sense he had something. “Adam wouldn’t have been the best rugby player – that’s a certainty – but he was very, very hard working. You normally find those people end up surpassing those who are a bit more naturally talented.”
There are some, including his supportive mentor, who think that with Radwan England may be blessed with their most exhilarating attacking threat since Jason Robinson. Despite not playing the game before secondary school and “not really having a clue” in his first junior game, he ran in seven tries in his second. If he is not the finished article, with Eddie Jones seeking improvements in his aerial game, he remains a swift learner.
“It’s amazing to get into the squad but that’s when you’ve got to ramp it up again,” said Radwan. “We’ve had a few chats and there are obviously a lot of areas I need to improve. He was keen for me to go back to Newcastle after the summer and really push on, rather than thinking I’d cracked it.”
Tougher challenges than Canada await – starting at England’s training camp in Jersey next week where his experienced rival Jonny May will also be keen to impress. A minor knee twinge has sidelined him from Newcastle’s game against Gloucester at Kingsholm but whenever Radwan takes the field he instinctively wants to give it a go. “There are times when my legs just take over. My mentality is always to attack. I want to beat people but a lot of it is instinct.” Has he encountered a quicker opponent? “There are obviously people in the Prem who are really quick but I haven’t been completely skinned yet.”
Part of him would also be interested to discover exactly how quickly he can run 100m, if only to stop people asking the question. “Everyone asks what my best 100m time is and I’ve never done it. I’d quite like to know. I want to keep getting quicker.” At Newcastle they have been teaching him to sprint with his knees slightly higher, with encouraging results. “I didn’t use to lift my feet, I just kind of scuttled along.”
Y, on top of becoming the faintly bemused new poster boy for Egyptian rugby – “They’d probably never heard of rugby until I started playing it” – he is now pursuing another sporting ambition. “I’ve just started fly fishing again, with our prop Richard Palframan. We’ve both set ourselves a target to catch a salmon next year. He’s very good but I’m pretty useless.” Would he prefer landing that big salmon in 2022 or creating further ripples at Twickenham? His response is instant. “I’d definitely rather score a few tries in the Six Nations.”
It is hard to imagine English rugby fans not becoming instantly hooked as and when Radwan gets a run next month. Twickenham already feels like home and his Canadian hat-trick has whetted his appetite. “It’s every young rugby player’s dream to play – and score – for England and it made me really hungry to do it again. I want to do it as much as I possibly can.
“Growing up my family have watched me play in the north-east and I felt really proud to have them there at Twickenham watching me play for England. I feel that was the best way I could repay them for all the sacrifices – and all the lifts they’ve given me.” And this autumn? “I want to play against the best, have a go and show what I’m about.”
The north east loves a local hero and a new one is fast emerging.