It's a learning curve for Ben Ibrahim in Cambridge Rugby Club's front row in National League One
Like a good bottle of red wine, it is said that props get better with age.
Therefore, the future looks rosy for Cambridge’s Ben Ibrahim.
The loose-head prop is still only 23 so has plenty still to learn about the dark arts of the front row, but that is not to say that he has looked out of place on the left-hand side of the scrum.
You could argue that Ibrahim had two things that may have counted against him given his position when he joined Cambridge, his age and the step up from Old Northamptonians in National League Three.
His route to Volac Park says a lot about his determination to succeed though, as after appearing for the East Midlands under-20s team in the summer of 2016, he sent a showreel to the coaching team which eventually led to him signing.
And having turned 21 in the September, Ibrahim was making his first-team debut in National League One in the October, although it did not go quite to plan as he was sin-binned against Birmingham Moseley.
“It was a big step up, but I was quite fortunate that at the time I had worked with Dan Seal (the former forwards’ coach) at East Midlands under-20s and he was a coach at Cambridge as well,” he said.
“It meant I could work with him quite closely as I already knew him so it was easy to ask the questions, and Ricky Reeves was there as well so there was bundles of experience that you could take from.
“It was about getting the experience and exposure that was the main thing.
“If you get put in the deep end, you’ve got to swim out, as such.
“It was about getting knowledge and learning on the job really.
“I wasn’t expecting to play as quickly as I did but I had the right people around me to make that adjustment and I was pushing myself enough so that I could have a stint.When I got the opportunity, I had to be ready for it.”
After the completion of his first season with Cambridge, Ibrahim was given the chance to catch the eye by training during the summer with Bedford Blues, where he had previously been part of the academy.
As a production designer by day, it proved a difficult juggling act, but one that the prop was grateful to be able to experience.
“At the time it was more about development,” he said.
“I had already signed for Cambridge for the following year so I had to bide by my contract, but it was offered to me and I was never going to say no.
“It was an eye opener to what the next level up would be like if I was to do it. It was also an experience of another group of coaching staff.”
Last season was a bit more stop-start for Ibrahim as he suffered a shoulder injury that took its time to heal fully, with the complete recuperation not happening until the summer break.
But he has been back to the fore again this season, in a competitive battle for a front-row place.
There has also been an overseas adventure for Ibrahim, with a trial for the German national team.
He was put on stand-by for the World Cup qualifiers, and was asked to do the same for the forthcoming European Championships, but decided to focus his attentions on helping Cambridge remain in National League One.
“It’s the business end of the season now so I didn’t want to leave Cambridge to go to do that,” said Ibrahim.
“I might have got called upon all of a sudden and I would have had to drop everything, and I didn’t want to do that so I have put it on hold for the time being.
“It’s on the back burner at the moment because it’s quite hard working full time as well. It’s a big commitment to do as you would have to get released by work.
“Germany have Mike Ford and Mauritz Botha, two very experienced players and coaches. There is so much experience and knowledge there that when you get these opportunities you’ve just got to try to sap as much out of these people as possible.
“But there are only so many plates you can spin.”
Ibrahim, who also has ambitions to play for England Counties, believes that the key for Cambridge in the closing month of the season is maintaining their consistency through the course of a game.
“Sometimes we’ve been the victims of our own success,” he says. “Sometimes we will be playing well and then have five minutes of madness, and you can definitely see that in some of the games.
“But it’s a really good bunch of boys and we have faith in the coaches and the messages they are trying to get across.
“We’ve got to stay in games and not lose concentration. We are a good team, a good bunch of players, we just need to not lose concentration as when you play the good teams they will be fixated on the games for the full 80 minutes.
“A lapse in concentration and you could lose the game.”