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The Leicester verdict on Ollie Chessum becoming an England regular

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Dan Mullan/The RFU Collection via Getty Images)

Leicester have given their verdict on the emergence last month of Ollie Chessum as a regular starter at second row in the England team. The 22-year-old had just one previous start coming into 2023, taking the place of a concussed Maro Itoje for the tour-clinching series win over Australia in Sydney last July.

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Injury then affected his Autumn Nations Series selection chances, Eddie Jones newly capping the likes of David Ribbans and Alex Coles at a time when Chessum signalled his return by playing a Premiership Rugby Cup match for Leicester at Saracens on the same day that England drew with the All Blacks.

That Test pecking order was soon rejigged after Steve Borthwick, Chessum’s Gallagher Premiership title-winning coach at Leicester, took over the England job in December from the dismissed Jones.

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Chessum had played just eight times for Leicester coming into the 2021/22 season but he then flourished under Borthwick, his emergence culminating in him making his Test debut and playing a major part in his club’s league title win last term.

Having played 32 minutes in the 2022 Six Nations when twice coming off the bench, he is now a pivotal member of the England pack under Borthwick in their latest championship campaign. He started in all three of the February matches and is developing an encouraging partnership with Itoje after Jonny Hill, a favourite player of Jones, was excluded from the squad.

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Interim Leicester boss Richard Wigglesworth, who himself will begin working with England full-time in the lead-up to the upcoming Rugby World Cup, was a keen viewer from afar of Chessum this past month. He was delighted with how the youngster grabbed his opportunity to impress as a Six Nations starter with the countdown on towards the start of the finals in France in September. “It is really hard for someone to jump from getting in the club team to being an international starter and having nothing in between,” said Wigglesworth.

“He [Chessum] has developed like all the players at Leicester Tigers, that younger group, they just have this desire to get better and when you have that desire, good things happen. Yes, he gets himself in the England squad, then he gets onto the bench and then when he does start he is ready to play really well. He has worked for it so we are delighted for him but it is all down to his hard work, what he has done day in and day out to get himself into that position.”

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Youngsters can often go into their shells after entering the daunting Test environment. What type of personality does Cheesum have that has helped to thrive with England? “He is quite a jovial guy,” explained Wigglesworth. “He is the butt of many jokes which he doesn’t mind. Doesn’t mind standing in front of a group and having the mick taken out of him and taking the mick out of others. He is a good character to have around the squad.”

Chessusm is part of the young Leicester brigade featuring Freddie Steward and Jack van Poortvliet that is making waves with England, while another youngster, Cameron Henderson, is knocking on the door with Scotland. Their collective fast-track international exposure is inspiring other young Leicester guns to make their own mark.

“It’s why you are dying for your players to play internationally because you see all the work and you are so happy for them but then what it breeds in the team and in the squad is like, ‘Right, I have seen what Leicester Tigers did to maximise that player and he got rewarded on the back of it.’

“That is all you want, players to maximise their ability. You only get one career and these guys are young men and they are trying to maximise every minute of it… we have got a young group of players who drive each other to be better and that is why this club for a long time in the future is going to be in a good spot because if you can keep these guys together they are just going to drive each other on to great things.”

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