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The message Olly Cracknell has for his old friends at Ospreys

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Leicester back-rower Olly Cracknell has voiced his sympathy for old friends at the Ospreys caught up in the WRU contractual nightmare. Players who don’t have deals for next season have been put through an emotional wringer in recent months and although contracts have finally emerged in recent weeks for those players the regions want to keep on, the fresh terms have arrived with reportedly swingeing pay cuts.

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A crisis is nothing new at the Ospreys. Cracknell endured a few escapades himself during his seven seasons in Wales after joining in 2014 from the Leeds Tykes academy. For instance, there was that ill-fated merger idea with Scarlets.

However, what is currently going on with the regions appears to be worse than ever, and attached to the reported huge pay cuts is another touted Ospreys merger, this time with Ealing from the English Championship.

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It’s a saga that the 28-year-old Cracknell is now far removed from, the ex-Wales U20 player and an uncapped 2017 Six Nations squad pick escaping the Ospreys in November 2021 to join London Irish after tumbling down the pecking order under Toby Booth.

But the grapevine has been busy, the 2022/23 Leicester signing regularly touching base with the old mates he has left in Swansea. “I speak to them all the time and it’s not good,” he explained. “But when I was there there was a crisis, more than one crisis that I was a part of. There was plenty and even before covid there were problems, there was talk of mergers.

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“There is talk of a merger now, but there was talk of us merging with the Scarlets back in 2019 or something. So there have always been problems but it seems like now it’s really coming to a head. I don’t know the ins and outs of it because I am not in that world anymore, but I feel for my friends who are at the Ospreys.

“The ones I speak to, it just doesn’t seem like they are treated particularly well, especially the loyalty a lot of the Welsh players show. You will find a lot of the Welsh boys will stay and they will be very loyal to their regions, but I remember some were treated really badly when I was there. I do feel for them.

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“To have it going on for such a long time is really difficult and I feel for the players who may be struggling with injuries as well. Say you get injured now at this time when you don‘t have a contract, or maybe you have a contract offer which is a huge pay cut, it’s just a really difficult spot to be in.

“My sympathies are definitely with them. I can’t speak for the internationals. I don’t know enough about the international game to be able to comment on that, but I know at Ospreys it is difficult to be under such stress for such a long time.”

Quitting for the Gallagher Premiership was the decision that rejuvenated Cracknell and while he would recommend other Welsh-based players following him, he admits that the market is now restricted post the collapse of Wasps and Worcester.

“There are opportunities out there if players look for them although there are fewer and fewer with two professional teams in England going down. But I took a chance moving and it has given my career a whole new lease of life.”

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What unwittingly helped that transition was not playing during his last while at the Ospreys, non-selection that left him in the gym bulking up. That additional mass was most useful in an adaption to the Premiership that is now set for a 15th league appearance for Leicester this Sunday at Gloucester to add to the 10 he enjoyed last term for London Irish.

“In my last few years at Ospreys, I was encouraged to develop my lineout, ‘the game is changing, it’s getting faster and you need to be a bit lighter’. I came back to the Premiership and in the months leading up to my move I wasn’t playing because the coach Toby Booth didn’t pick me much, so I was just in the gym and I got heavier and heavier.

“Then I moved back to the Premiership and it not necessarily more physical but tighter, more people running straight at you, things like that, and being heavier in the Premiership suited the way I play. I had heard from people who had moved to the Premiership that it was a bit more attritional and I just focused on doing the tight stuff really well, something I probably went away from the last few years at the Ospreys which had a detrimental effect on the way I was playing.”

Cracknell now tips the Premiership scales at close to 10kilos heavier than when he was playing regularly in Wales. “I’m now around 115. I like feeling a bit heavier and the season has been going well. I want to be as heavy as I can and as lean as I can – there is a bit of a cut-off at some point as you don’t want to be carrying too much.”

Cracknell has started matches in all three back row positions this season and will now wear No7 at Kingholm in his latest outing. He is known as a bit of a statistical nause when it comes to assessing his performance. It was while representing RGC in Wales that a coach took him to task over his numbers and it’s something he has remained conscious of ever since then.

“I found playing seven my figures are probably down a bit, especially in attack because Jasper (Wiese) gets through so many carries,” he explained. “I try not to hound the analyst too much because I feel bad messaging them straight after. I usually message James Whitfield, who is one of the analysts, the day after a game or if we have got an eight-day turnaround, I will give him an extra day of peace before I start messaging him.”

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