England midfield hopeful Ollie Lawrence is revelling in lockdown loneliness as he aims to show Eddie Jones he can be a World Cup 2023 contender.
Lawrence, 20, is rated one of the hottest young No.13s in the Premiership – a Manu Tuilagi-style blaster who also models his game on the sublime skills of Sonny Bill Williams.
Jones reckons some players will return in ‘terrible’ condition from the unwanted break, but the Birmingham-born Worcester centre insists he will not be among them as he looks to pressure established Red Rose stars Tuilagi, Henry Slade and Jonathan Joseph.
Lawrence told The Rugby Paper: “My dad told me what Eddie said and this period is a real test of character to see if boys have been working hard enough. I guess it will show when we get back whether we’ve all been doing enough or not.
“I’ve been training by myself and while Covid-19 has obviously hit everybody massively, the time off has given me time to re-evaluate things and work on small bits of my game that I needed to improve – I’m probably fitter than I’ve ever been right now.
“We’ve been set running and gym programmes by Worcester and I’ve been smashing into them over the last couple of months. I actually prefer training by myself because I find it a lot easier to focus on what I’ve got to do and push myself really hard.
“I’m an only child so I was always used to doing things on my own, so I can tailor my own sessions and work on certain things without interruption. I find it a lot more comfortable and free-flowing and I’m really improving, even though we’re not playing.”
With Harlequins centre Joe Marchant soon to re-join the Premiership mix after his stint in New Zealand, Jones will have an embarrassment of outside-centre riches at his disposal.
Lawrence is under no illusions concerning his rite of passage, but after earning himself a starting place at Warriors, it is a challenge he readily accepts.
He said: “Unless you’re playing against the best in the country, if not the world, you’re never going to have a true test. Playing against those other players is only going to make me better and even if you don’t have your best game, you can take things from them.
“Growing up, I looked up to Manu and Sonny Bill – they’re the two I had my eye on the most.
“Manu’s a very big, physical player and that’s something I’ve always had in my game because I was quite physical growing up as well, and then I’ve developed the Sonny Bill side because offloading is always something I’ve enjoyed doing.
“It’s something I’ve naturally been able to do and I’ve been trying to incorporate that into my game and make good decisions around making those offloads. That’s made me more comfortable and confident about completing the necessary skills.”
Lawrence’s dedication is impressive. He adds: “I’ve been watching lots of videos as well, looking through old games – clips of myself, clips of other teams – for different cues of what others 13s, centres and wingers are doing defensively and in attack.
“I’m trying to add all those little one-per-cents into my game in terms of skill. I’m doing lots of passing and just keeping my hands moving, even if it means staying in the house and playing with a tennis ball to sharpen hand-eye co-ordination and catching.”
Lawrence aims to return the fittest of the lot. He added: “Another thing I’ve been working on is the cardio side – getting my running level up to the rest of my game.
“If you can have a positive involvement in the game and then get up as soon as you can and make another one, then keep repeating, that’s a real positive side of your game which, hopefully, is going to appeal to the Worcester coaches and Eddie Jones.”
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