The Big Interview: Andrew Kitchener on beating his brother, academy stars and the Worcester Warriors resurgence
Imagine this – you’re 29 years old and a senior Leicester Tigers player, giving your all in front of a passionate Welford Road crowd.
18,000 fans are packed in to watch an entertaining match but going into the final quarter it’s Worcester Warriors who have the lead.
Your hooker throws in and as a lock you rise but out of the corner of your eye you see an opposition player guess right and win the steal; Who is it? It’s your little brother.
“I wasn’t too popular with him about that one but what can you do?” explained Worcester’s Andrew Kitchener, the 22-year-old younger sibling of Leicester’s Graham Kitchener.
“I also got in a scuffle at one point and I think he came in to save me! Didn’t back me did he!
“It was all a bit surreal really, seven years is quite a big age gap between us so growing up there was never really the thought that we’d play against each other.
“I’ve always grown up watching him play so to be involved in the same game was a bit strange – there’s the occasional stoppage and you’d look up and give him the nod but overall it was a nice experience, we’ll look back on it proudly.
“My dad was there and that was nice, I’m not sure how he felt and he probably would’ve preferred us to be on the same team but we all met up afterwards and it’s one we won’t forget.
“It’s great though that we (Worcester) came out on top and great to have the bragging rights!”
The much younger Kitchener is following in his older brother’s footsteps at present, as part of a Worcester academy that Graham developed through many moons ago before joining Leicester.
The 2.01m tall lock made his first-team debut in the European Challenge Cup in October 2016, a few months after winning the World Rugby U20 Championship alongside Warriors teammate Jack Singleton.
A Premiership Rugby debut against Northampton followed in November 2016 and, after making six first-team appearances last season, six more have already come so far this campaign.
Kitchener is looking like another success story in an academy system that is seeing the likes of centre Ollie Lawrence and back row Ted Hill star for the first team this season.
Kitchener added: “Personally I feel more comfortable with every season I’m here and every game I play, I’ve played quite a bit now and if I can keep progressing and developing then I can stay here for many more seasons.
“I’ve been impressed with all the lads who’ve stepped up. Ted Hill’s probably the obvious one whose broken into the first team and made a really big impression, already getting into the England training squad too.
🏅 Another strong performance from @Ted_Hill26 on Saturday! 💪
— Worcester Warriors ⚔️ (@WorcsWarriors) November 6, 2018
“Other lads have stepped up in Europe or in the Premiership Rugby Cup and that’s really good to see for myself, that we’re able to come in and perform well.
“Ollie (Lawrence) has done really well, he was man of the match against Stade Francais which was hugely important for us.
“Lads like Singo (Jack Singleton), Josh Adams and Jamie Shillcock all progressed up through the academy.
“It’s a really good example for the younger lads that if they train well they will get opportunities.”
Worcester’s academy talent is clearly shining through and putting pressure on first-team places, even for a squad that is performing increasingly well.
That Premiership Rugby Cup match at Welford Road resulted in the fifth win on the trot in all competitions for the Warriors, who also have six wins in seven – only Exeter at Sandy Park felling them.
“The lads are in a decent place at the moment,” Kitchener said. “Winning those five on the bounce is amazing for the spirits in the camp and gives us a bit of momentum.
“It boosts competition because we’ve put a different side out in Europe so we’ve managed to rotate but still perform well so it keeps everyone on their toes.
“It lets the first team guys know that they’ve got to fight to keep their places.”
Kitchener is leading the way in challenging for a first team place, starting against Wasps in Gallagher Premiership Rugby in September and also seeing game time against Sale Sharks and Exeter that month.
As well as continuing his rugby development the Shrewsbury-born forward is studying for an economics degree at Birmingham University. He’s clearly a busy man.
He added: “I’m in my final year now and I managed to split my final year over two years, I’ve gone part time to reduce the workload and to make it more manageable with the rugby, it’s helped a lot.
“We’ve got a great support system at Worcester for our educational side of things, at times it can get difficult but part time has helped.
“It gives me an additional focus aside from rugby and gives me a good qualification for life after the game.”