Worcester Warriors’ highly-promising young centre Ollie Lawrence won’t forget the week he turned 21 in a hurry. The Sunday before last, despite featuring regularly since the Premiership restart, Lawrence was surprisingly named only on the bench for Worcester in their clash with fellow strugglers London Irish.
At half-time, as the Warriors found themselves 8-7 down, the super subcame on to turn the game on its head with a scintillating display of attacking rugby.
Within 90 seconds of his introduction, Lawrence had split the Irish backline before delivering the perfect pass for Francois Hougaard to go over and give his side the lead – and the Warriors never looked back.
Former Wales international Ashley Beck then sent his young protégé on a stampeding line through the Irish defence, with Lawrence shaking off several defenders to go under the posts.
Nor was he done yet. When Hougaard returned the favour to send Lawrence on a crashball line through two defenders, it didn’t seem that even a brick wall could stop Warriors’ sensational Academy product.
That effectively put the game to bed. Lawrence’s 40-minute showing had yielded impressive stats with 82 metres made, five defenders beaten and four clean breaks, to add to his two tries and assist in a bonus-point, 40-25 win for Warriors. A fine way for the Birmingham-born youngster to sign off before the European break.
“Being on the bench I knew that regardless of when I came on, I needed to make an impact,” he said. “It was nice to get a couple of tries and set one up. It was a game we targeted and it was important for the group to put in a good performance, so we were thrilled to get the five points.”
This weekend has provided a rest for Warriors, and while turning 21 on Friday may have proved a perfect opportunity to celebrate for Lawrence, the England hopeful had a rather quiet one – dinner out with a select few team-mates.
“A small group of us went for a nice meal but that’s it. It’s obviously a pretty strange time with the pandemic but there’s also still lots of work to do before the end of the season – and to prepare for next.”
Lawrence’s focus is clear. A wise head on young shoulders. And, although Worcester’s top try-scorer, with ten tries in just 19 appearances this term, the powerful ball-carrier believes there is more to come.
“I feel like I’ve a lot more to give both physically and rugby-wise,” he said. “I feel my potential as a player is something that’s going to improve over the years of me playing. When I re-signed with Worcester, I felt like I’d still got a lot to prove and I want to be a player who is remembered for making a positive mark on the club.”
His glowing performances both before and after the lockdown, have certainly caught the eye – and a pair of eyes he is particularly eager to impress are those of England boss Eddie Jones.
“I’ve spoken to Eddie on a few occasions and sought feedback as to how I can improve as a player,” said Lawrence. “You’ve got to be performing week in, week out, be the best you can be, and hopefully you’ll get the opportunity. I’ve been able to play – and start – regularly at Worcester. That’s what I’ve got to be doing, as well as being consistent, if I’m to be pushing for higher honours.”
While he got a brief taste of the England senior set-up at a training camp in the summer of 2018, Lawrence has yet to be capped. But, still just in the early stages of his career, the former England U18 and U20 international has picked up a lot of vital know-how from seasoned players, such as current midfield partner Beck and Warrior-turned-Wasp, Ryan Mills.
Lawrence explained: “Ash and Millsy have been there for me since I started and they’re some of the best players I’ve ever played with. Ash has caps for Wales while Millsy should’ve been capped for England as he’s class. They’ve given me the confidence to be myself and have been there to talk to. Nothing goes under the carpet – if there was something to say, they’d say it. That’s what I needed and if I didn’t have those sorts of players to guide me, I wouldn’t be at the stage I am now.
“Francois Venter, Wynand Olivier, Ben Te’o – they all chipped in and helped me too, using some of their experience to help me improve my game, and things like how I need to approach the way I train and play. I’m lucky to have had that knowledge passed down from international centres.”
Lawrence pinpoints new backs coach Matt ‘Jockey’ Sherratt for his recent progress.
“Jockey has really helped push me on leaps and bounds,” said Lawrence. “He’s such an approachable person. He’s pushing me to be the best I can be and to repeat the good moments I’ve been able to produce in games, as well as to focus on myself a bit more and to keep working hard.”
The former Bromsgrove School student adds: “When I was playing schoolboy rugby, I was watching Manu Tuilagi and Ngani Laumape who were at the top of their game. That’s who I wanted to be like and who I saw myself having similar traits to.
“Playing in the Premiership now, you can see other players coming in like Semi Radradra and Malakai Fekitoa – players that are really physical but who also have the ability to beat defenders and offload the ball and that’s what I want to relate to.”
Lawrence is one of 17 current first-team players at Warriors who have graduated from the club’s academy and he is quick to praise the investment in youth, including the recent appointment of already once-capped England flanker Ted Hill (21) as club captain and fellow centre Will Butler (22) as vice-captain.
He said: “It’s a real positive thing for the club. Incorporating them into leadership roles at the club will allow younger boys to feel more comfortable in speaking to them and it shows the direction in which the club is going in – investing in younger players and being a club that produces a lot of homegrown talent.
“Will is a natural speaker and led the team in the A-League, while Ted was capped by England last year and has stepped up into the club captain role well. The boys respect him. He’s an incredible talent and leads by example in his performances on the field, as well as off it.
“When I left school, I couldn’t have imagined being in the position I am now. I knew I was going to Worcester and I wanted to play in the Premiership but I could only have dreamt of the opportunities I’ve had. I’ve been fortunate, I’ve taken the opportunities that Worcester have created but I’m grateful and hopefully things continue to get even better.
“When I look back on my career, I don’t want to have any regrets. I want to feel within myself that I’ve fulfilled my potential as a player. Obviously one of the goals is to play for England and another is to become a Lion, and those would be incredible accolades to have. But I just want to put out my best performances, week in, week out, and fulfil my potential and then the rest will speak for itself.”
Away from the field, Lawrence is a keen gamer – having spent plenty of time during lockdown taking on team-mates at Call of Duty, FIFA and NBA, while he also revealed he’s developed a friendship he didn’t expect with 29-year-old Scotland international back rower Cornell du Preez.
“He’s a friend I never thought I’d have at the club but we’ve ended up being very close,” said Lawrence. “We literally do everything together – he probably sees me more than his girlfriend!”
Another love of Lawrence’s is shopping – buying clothes and trainers, so much so he says he’s running out of room in his Worcester apartment. But it’s one piece of clothing in particular that’s helped him along his recent fruitful journey – his underwear!
“Since my first game for Worcester over two years ago, I’ve always worn the same boxers and skins for every game,” admitted Lawrence. “That was right up until the game against Bristol a couple of weeks ago, where I didn’t have the greatest of matches.
“So, I decided to change it up and I’ve worn a normal pair of boxers since! But I’ve kept the old ones I used to wear, but just as a lucky thing for me in my bag!”
Will he be able to factor his way into the England set-up in the near future? Well, while the lucky pants might be jettisoned, the talents of this rising young star certainly cannot be.