The Worcester and England centre gives an insight into his sporting approach. This feature first appeared in the March issue of Rugby World.
There’s ambition. There’s drive with ball in hand too. There’s a laser focus to rival Cyclops from X-Men. But those are just small parts of what makes up Worcester and England centre Ollie Lawrence. And if you seek a testament to how this 21-year-old has thundered into national attention, just ask how he handled recent lockdowns.
“I think me being an only child, it just made me be able to cope with being on my own,” a relaxed Lawrence tells Rugby World. “I’m very content to live on my own – I’ve lived on my own for two years now. A lot of people don’t like it, but I can without any issues and I always saw what I do with my career as something for me and my family. I don’t have distractions and if anything it’s helped me get to where I am so far.
“I think lockdown was one of the best things for me because I got time to train how I wanted to train. I got time to let my body recover in the way it needed to. And I just got time to focus on myself.
“Even hard sessions I enjoyed, because I could choose when to do them, whether in the afternoon or 11 in the morning. It was based on how I was feeling and it felt like me having control of my life.”
It’s an approach you won’t often hear detailed but it makes total sense. This is not a criticism of anyone – he clearly just liked having the director’s chair for a bit.
We could speculate about an alternative life, where Lawrence went off to uni to study something like physiotherapy, but his dreams always involved sport. As a young all-rounder, he played cricket, rugby and football, spending time in Aston Villa’s and Birmingham’s academies. He went to national swimming meets in primary school, he enjoyed tennis, badminton and table tennis (when he first joined Worcester, he wanted to conquer all-comers with a paddle but jokes that he’s since migrated to the sofa area of the team room).
The back says he is grateful for so much family support, with father Mike a sports-mad ally. But there is one area where his dad has the edge and, in talking about it, you get yet another angle on the Lawrence mindset.
“Of all the sports I’ve done, golf is probably my worst,” he begins. “It’s probably the only sport my dad is actually better than me at!
All elite athletes are competitive. How does that manifest for him?
“It’s one of those things where if I try something and I see that I’m not as good as someone, I want to spend as much time as I can to be better than that person. So it’s all down to time. If I had a whole summer off I would just go and play golf and golf and golf and golf so when I came back, I’d be better than everyone. It’s one of those things that sometimes brings the worst out of me.”
That’s refreshingly honest for someone so young. But of course he has to work within a team too, and Lawrence continues: “When I first came into Worcester I had to earn my stripes. I think they knew that I was talented but in the first couple of months I just tried to settle myself into the squad and connect with them more than anything, because I knew my rugby would take care of itself.
“I slowly realised that earning respect from players isn’t always off the field, it’s mainly on the field. Because you can be a great bloke off it but at the end of the day you are there to win games of rugby.”
The Midlander has a mature approach to criticism, too. He wants it; he wants to improve. But if a respected figure gives him some, he’ll “remove myself from the situation first” to analyse it, then come back to find out more.
A hole-punch carrier with a canny offloading instinct, Lawrence also racks up tackles and loves running hard lines to drag defenders away so team-mates can get to an edge.
Of course, when talk of England call-ups first began, comparisons with one Manu Tuilagi grew loud.
“I don’t take that in a negative light,” Lawrence reflects. “Manu is someone I looked up to, someone I wanted to be like because of the way he plays. So if anything I took it as a compliment. There’s always going to be opinions out there, saying, ‘He’s his replacement’, etc.
“Well, so be it. Everyone has an opinion. But those opinions don’t matter like my opinion matters to me and what I think.
“It doesn’t frustrate me because I’m not Manu. I’m never going to be Manu. He’s probably got an extra 15kg on me! And he’s got a hell of a lot more experience than me. So I understand people using comparisons because of the similar game we play, but I am who I am and Manu is who he is and it’s as simple as that.”
It’s excellent to hear a young star know what they want to do with their career and simply lay it out. No distractions; straight to it.
Direct, explosive. He is perfectly suited to today’s game.
This feature first appeared in Rugby World’s March edition.
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