In the autumn of 2018 Cheick Kone was in his final year at St Matthias School in Wolverhampton, planning to train as a mechanic and he had never heard of rugby.
Thanks to Warriors Community Foundation, Premiership Rugby and England Rugby, Kone is now training with the first team squad at Sixways having become one of the latest Senior Academy intake of the Three Pears Warriors Academy.
Kone, a lock, has joined hooker Finn Theobald-Smith, scrum-half Tom Miles and wing/full-back Tobi Wilson among the new faces in the Senior Academy having impressed playing for Warriors Under-16s and Stourport High School & Sixth Form – the club’s Diploma in Sporting Excellence team – in recent seasons.
Kone has come a long way in short time and none of it would have been possible without Project Rugby, an initiative between Premiership Rugby and England Rugby to increase participation in rugby by people from traditionally under-represented groups – including BAME (Black Asian & Minority Ethnic people), Warriors Academy Outreach Coach Matt Jones – who spotted his potential – and Warriors Community Foundation, who have provided important funding to support him throughout his journey.
Kone was born and raised in the Ivory Coast, spent time living in Bologna in Italy and had not heard of rugby until Jones visited St Matthias School.
“I was in isolation for not doing my homework when Matt came to the school and one of my teachers told him there was a big lad in isolation and that’s how I started with rugby,” Kone said.
“Before that I had never heard of rugby. I played football and baseball and also taekwondo. My dad was black belt back in the Ivory Coast.
“When I was in year 11 my last year I wanted to go to college and study to be a mechanic but Project Rugby has given me the opportunity to play rugby.
“It’s given me a lot of confidence. I wasn’t confident before. I’ve made a lot of friends and it has given me the opportunity to go to Stourport High School and play rugby there.”
Jones invited Kone to try rugby and, having played for a transition team in Wolverhampton, he joined Wolverhampton RFC and has not looked back.
“Although I knew nothing about the game I have found that people in rugby have been willing to help me,” he said.
“People have welcomed me and there is a lot of love and friendship in rugby.
“I enjoy tackling and carrying the ball forward. But what I really like about rugby is that it’s a team sport. You are not playing by yourself, you need to work with other people to get success so it’s about teamwork.”
Kone has come a long way in a short time which suggests that he is a fast learner but he is the first to acknowledge that he has much more learning to do.
“With everything I do I try to give it 100 per cent. I watch videos of where I need to improve and also talk to the coaches about what I need to do to get better,” he said.
“I still have a lot to learn. I watch first team players like Justin Clegg, who plays the same position as me, and ask them what I need to do to improve.
“I am really excited and proud that Worcester have given me the opportunity to improve myself. I still have a lot to learn. I never thought I would be here but, thanks to God I am. I will try to take the opportunity to carry on, do my best and see where I will go.”
Inspirational story Cheick 👏pic.twitter.com/GLVgjGETZn
— Worcester Warriors Academy (@AcademyWarriors) May 18, 2021