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The reaction to 'rangy' Ollie Chessum, the latest new England cap

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

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There were just 15 minutes remaining at Stadio Olimpico last Sunday when Ollie Chessum entered the Guinness Six Nations arena to replace skipper Tom Curry and make his England debut at just the age of 21 – quite the achievement for someone who has played just 16 times (eight as a starter) in the Gallagher Premiership for Leicester.  

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It was December when Tigers boss Steve Borthwick explained what he especially liked about the emerging 6ft 7in, 118kg forward. “A fantastic character who has worked really hard at his game. It hasn’t been a straight path for him. He has gone a different way. Played at Nottingham the year before last and shone there as a young man and then he has come in and worked hard to improve himself physically. 

“His attitude to work has always been excellent but his desire and focus to improve have been really impressive and you saw that on the pitch… he has shown a huge amount of perseverance. You talk about grasping opportunities, he is one that every time you give him an opportunity he jumps at it.”

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Eight weeks later it was the turn of England boss Eddie Jones to sing the praises of Chessum. On Friday, after naming the Test rookie as the No19 for the clash away to Italy, the head coach suggested by way of introduction: He is a workhorse. He is a traditional six-stroke-four hard worker, has good basics, likes doing the tough stuff.”

Forty-eight hours later, with Chessum now a capped international player with England following his cameo off the bench in Rome, Jones reckoned: “A lovely hard-working kid. We have been looking for that tall, rangy four who can play six or six who can play four in the mould of a Courtney Lawes. 

“He is not to that level now but we feel he can develop into that important player for us that can fill two sports. To come in and not look out of place, for a guy that I don’t know how many Premiership games he has started, I am sure it is under ten it is a fantastic achievement.”

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Asked was there a preference for Chessum to become a six or a four in the long-term, Jones added: “It doesn’t matter, we want someone who can play four or six. Having said that, I thought Maro was absolutely outstanding at six. It really suited his game and him and Curry together were a good combination.”

Leicester were understandably chuffed that Chessum had become the latest player from their club to become a capped England forward. Freddie Burns, their man of the match in last Friday’s derby win over Northampton, summed up the mood when appearing on the RugbyPass Fanzone show with Jim Hamilton following the weekend’s action in round two of the Six Nations.

“Ollie getting his first cap is amazing. Everyone at Leicester is buzzing for him because you know what it is like Jim, you played there. You played in the position back row, second row where you don’t get the limelight. It’s not about necessarily scoring tries or being the poster boy is it, you are doing the nitty-gritty stuff that goes unseen.

“Ollie for us this year has really surprised me along with a few of the other youngsters at Tigers. I know his mum. She is always at the games supporting. His younger brother is also at the club as well. Just for his whole family, I’m made up that he has got his England debut,” said Burns. 

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Hamilton added: “First touch of the ball was a lineout steal, second touch of the ball was nearly a lineout steal. His agent is my agent so I texted him, he was out in Italy watching Ollie making his debut in Rome and I said he made a real big contribution and it was good to see a young lad from my home club Leicester come on and do really well.”

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