With the Championship slated for a mid-January start, Ollie Stonham is among a battery of young Saracens back rowers desperate to help kick-start the club’s revival.
A product of the renowned Felsted School in Essex, Stonham, 19, actually had an eye on a future in hockey before switching his attentions to the oval ball game. But his rugby progress has been rapid and, after being awarded a three-year contract extension in August, Stonham made his Premiership debut against Worcester last month and is hungry for success.
“I never played rugby for a junior club,” says Stonham. “I was really into hockey growing up and played for the Blue Hornets, with rugby at Felsted as my second sport. At 14 and 15 I was pretty decent and took my hockey seriously, but there’s not really a proper career pathway and as I grew and filled out rugby took over and it made sense to make the transition.
“Felsted put me forward for the Saracens junior academy when I was 16 and it’s gone from there. I was a second row to start with but moved further back and to progress the way I have and be offered a contract extension has been great. Making my Premiership debut against Worcester was an honour and we’re all just desperate to get on the field again now.”
Stonham is following in some impressive Felsted footsteps, adding: “Max Malins is probably their star former pupil at the moment after getting himself into the England squad and Ehren Painter and Rory Hutchinson have both done well at Northampton. There’s a couple of academy boys in the year below me at Saracens who have come from Felsted as well.”
While highly-rated Stonham can certainly expect game time in the Championship, there is stiff competition. He explained: “There are a lot of young back rowers at Saracens with Andy Christie and Sean Reffell two years older than me and Ethan Benson and Toby Knight around my age, but we all help each other and there’s no back-stabbing or anything.
“I don’t mind a tackle and I enjoy the set-piece, so I see myself as a lineout jumping No.6. I like open space as well and love getting my hands free and being part of the attack. I like to think my work-rate on and off the ball is my big point of difference in games.”
Stonham has no shortage of experienced heads to turn to.
He added: “I’ve no mentors as such but at Saracens you don’t have to worry about asking senior players for advice. Guys like Jamie George and Jackson Wray are always happy to help and I take a lot from someone like Michael Rhodes, who’s a standout player in my position.
“It’s impressive seeing what Ben Earl is doing with England and he and Max are providing inspiration for all the younger guys at the club. Ben was where I am not so long ago, so that’s exciting and it makes you want to back the processes Saracens have established.”