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HIP PROP ARTIST; BATH v SCARLETS EUROPEAN CHAMPIONS CUP POOL FIVE AT THE REC, KO 7.45PM; Rap fan Obano could be a smash hit for Six Nations.

Byline: ALEX SPINK Rugby Correspondent

BENO OBANO tonight goes from rapping in front of Eddie Jones to scrapping for a place in his England team.

Maro Itoje's burly cousin lines up against Scarlets in a Champions Cup clash vital to Bath's chances of becoming kings of Europe.

The prize is even bigger for a young prop who marked his debut in England's training squad by "spitting bars" for Jones and his new squad-mates.

"He went down a storm," said Danny Care. "Eddie was flabbergasted. He'd never heard anything like it."

Joe Marler's six-week ban for foul play, allied to Ellis Genge's shoulder surgery, means England head into the Six Nations short of a loosehead.

Six months ago, you would have got silly odds on Obano, in his first season on a senior contract at Bath, filling that No.1 vacancy. Not now.

"Beno has gone from an academy player into our starting team," said Todd Blackadder, boss of the Pool 5 leaders. "The more exposure he's had, the better he's got.

"He's nowhere near the finished article, but he's got all the potential to be world-class.

"I've no doubt he'll step up and perform. I wouldn't hesitate in considering him. He'll be fantastic."

Itoje recalls Obano, 5ft 8in and more than 18st, growing up wanting to become a professional footballer.

"He's always been a physical specimen, so I didn't think he'd be that good at football!" laughed Itoje. "Given his natural attributes, rugby seemed more likely.

"When we first joined secondary school, he was telling me he was bench pressing 80 kilos - quite a lot for an 11-year-old kid!"

After two unsuccessful trials with Fulham, Obano, 23, finally opted for rugby, but a long-term back injury derailed his progress.

It was then he found the mental strength to turn his fortunes around and bring himself to the attention of Jones, who will watch him this evening, prior to naming his Six Nations squad on Thursday.

"I didn't want to be that guy who sits at university or in the City when they're 26 or 27 and thinks, 'I could have been a rugby player' or, 'Yeah, Maro is my cousin'," explained Obano. "I didn't want to be the guy telling the stories, I wanted the story to be told about me."

Nobody is more thrilled with how the story is turning out than his cousin.

"I know how hard he's worked to get where he has, the sacrifices he's made," added Itoje. "It hasn't been a straightforward path."

EUROPEAN CUP POOL 5 PWDLF ABPTS Bath 430187581 13 Toulon 430196951 13 Scarlets 4 2 0 2 97 79 4 12 Treviso 4004691173 3


READY FOR BIG BENO Eighteen-stone Obano is hoping to impress England boss Eddie Jones in tonight's clash

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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jan 12, 2018
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