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Wednesday Apr 10, 2024

From Barcelona to the Top 14 - rising star Samuel Ezeala's story

For those familiar with the Top 14, the name Samuel Ezeala is not a new one – given the uber-talented winger made his debut in the 2017/18 season.

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Since then, the 24-year-old Spaniard has gone on to feature in over forty-five matches in French Rugby’s top division scoring a smooth 18 tries in the process.

A product of the Clermont-Auvergne academy, Samuel’s story is not a typical one given the path he carved out for himself.

Speaking to Rugbydump, Samuel went in-depth on his remarkable rise through the rugby ranks.

Beginning his rugby journey in Barcelona at the USAP Barcelona club, an associate club of Top 14 outfit USAP Perpignan, Sam took his future into his own hands from an early age.

“Yes, I started in Spain, but at 15 years old, I moved to Clermont where I spent eight years before I moved to Section Paloise.”

Delving into his decision-making as a young rugby player, Sam had a burning desire to make it at the top level, even if it meant taking the tougher, less travelled route.

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“When I was in Barcelona, I was playing at USAP Barcelona and had a link with Perpignan.

“When we were young in Barcelona, like a lot of players, I dreamed of playing for Perpignan. It was a dream of mine, so I did all I could to play for Perpignan.

“But the thing is that I see in Perpignan, there were some bad moments at that time, so I didn’t really think it would be possible to go to Perpignan.

“So I made moves for myself, like sending some videos to clubs and letters to clubs.

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“Clermont and Racing Metro, now Racing 92, replied to me that I should visit their centres (academies).

“When I went to Clermont I fell in love, so I didn’t go to Racing in Paris and after Perpignan. When they knew that Clermont was open to signing  me, that’s when Perpignan went really hard again to get me to sign.

“At that time, Perpignan were in the Pro D2, and Clermont was a big team who were playing for titles, Top 14 titles, and the structures were very clean.”

Whilst a young Sam had made his decision for rugby reasons, his family, despite supporting him, understandably found it tough to see their son move further away from home.

“Even if my family preferred that I went to Perpignan, they respected my decision to go to Clermont.

“They would have preferred that I went to Perpignan because it was closer to Barcelona, and I was only 15 so to go so far it was a little bit crazy for them.

“But for me, I had a goal, I had a dream, it was to play professional rugby in France, so I took the option where I thought I had more possibilities to be a pro rugby player.

“It worked very well; you need some luck, but you also need to work hard for it.”

Following a strong run at Clermont, which no doubt had its challenges, Sam, along with others, saw major changes at the club when wide-sweeping coaching changes were made.

This left Sam with a decision to make as he worked his way back from injury about which club to go to; in the end, the decision would be a simple one for him.

“What I liked with Pau was that, typically, the coach called me and explained everything to me. He gave me a challenge because, you know, I had some injuries, a lot of injuries earlier in my career, so it was harder for me.”

Returning from injury is never easy but for Sam, he took it all in his stride and used it as motivation to push towards what to date has been his best season in the Top 14.

“It was really hard, I had to find again my level to play a lot of games, to enjoy being on the pitch and not be scared about my body, about my injuries so it was really important for me to recover again. Pau it was a team the profile they want to play, they like to run and I think was at the moment, it was the best thing for me.

“I can say that at the moment it’s my best season so far from the other ones.”

Focusing on those tough days, Sam explained that the physical toll his body was taking would understandably seep into the mental side of not only his rugby but his life.

“It was really annoying for me, and for my mental health, it was really hard because of my confidence.

“I’m a guy that trusts myself, but these last times, even my confidence and my trust in myself got lower, so it was really good for me to make a good season with the new team, with a new environment, for my confidence and my trust in myself and my body and to show to all the people that thought that I couldn’t do it.

“When things don’t happen how the way you want is that the people, it’s a professional sport but sometimes people don’t want to try and help you to get better, they will hit you harder, telling you that your career is finished, and you are not at the level to play in the Top 14 anymore.

“So, In another way, that’s also revenge, you know, to show to all the people with doubts about me, to show them I am still there and I can play some good rugby, so that was important.”

@florugbytv That sweet feeling of scoring a try against your former club 🏉 Remember the name Samuel Ezeala 😤 the Spanish born winger is tearing it up in the @top14rugby 🔥 #top14 #top14🏉 #rugbytry ♬ original sound – FloRugby

Discussing what makes Pau such a special club, Sam pays credit to not only the structures but the people at the club, “The thing is, you have a really good team with really good players, and the practice is like a really good brand of rugby, and I think we show this with the good rugby we play.

“I think that our style of rugby is a pleasure to watch. We are a team that plays a lot of fast rugby, and I think that it is a pleasure to watch.”

Looking to the future, Sam has major ambitions to compete at the highest level, and despite reports linking him with a move to Top 14 leaders Stade Francais next season, he remains focused on the task at hand.

“It’s an amazing place (Pau); we are having a great season, so we are really proud of that, but we have to keep going because the top 14 is really tough.

“Every single ball in every single game is really important. I think between the fifth place and the fourteenth place, no the fifteenth place, there are 10 points, so that’s crazy.”

Whatever is in store for Samuel, it is clear that to this point, he has manifested his dream role as a budding star in one of rugby’s toughest domestic leagues. Showing his propensity to knuckle down and push through dark days, there is no doubt that Samuel Ezeala is a name to watch.

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