Ollie Chessum: The ‘unassuming’ 6ft 7in Leicester Tigers striker on the cusp of his England debut
While the majority of uncapped players called up to England’s Six Nations squad were widely tipped to make the jump, Ollie Chessum’s selection took most people by surprise.
Not that the 21-year-old’s form didn’t warrant recognition. The Leicester Tigers striker’s ability to play seemingly anywhere in the pack except the front row contributed to his deployment to 14 of Steve Borthwick’s 17 squads before Eddie Jones was called up .
However, those who know the 6ft 7in tall, red-haired striker best were somewhat less surprised by his inclusion on the senior international stage. Including Andy Singer, who helped train his foal team at Kesteven RFC in Lincolnshire.
“Ollie is a very genuine and humble boy with a great work ethic,” he said. “It was his coaching ability that impressed me the most about him. A lot of what they do under Steve Borthwick at Leicester Tigers is have a job to do and follow a specific role and his ability to follow instructions.
“So I wasn’t surprised when Ollie got his call up in England. He can play any role, at four, five, six, seven or eight years old. He will bring his athletic run with his long stride that will makes it difficult to carry, with good defense and aggression and he has a good boot to boot!
Chessum’s introduction to rugby came relatively late for most of those who were to reach the professional ranks. A teacher at Carre’s Grammar School in Grantham, Ben Pickard encouraged the hulking teenager to stray from his love of football and try the oval ball for height.
The wheels were quickly set in motion as recognition from the NLD (Nottingham, Lincolnshire and Derby) and honors from the counties of England followed, limiting his availability for his mates at Kesteven RFC. But he was never a stranger.
“When he didn’t have a game he would come back to Kesteven and play and was always really good with the guys,” Singer added. “They were super happy to see him back. Someone the size of Ollie, his dominating power, his ability to break tackles, that would always lift the boys’ spirits.
That bond with the teammates he left behind to pursue a career in professional rugby has never been overlooked, as the Kesteven RFC faithful have surrendered to one of their own in leaps and bounds, at the literally as well as figuratively.
“When he moved to Nottingham the boys would go watch him play and when he got his first England counties cap he gave the shirt to the club,” Singer added. “He’s been back many times since joining the Tigers, taking training sessions and passing on invaluable nuggets of information. His cohort of lads at the club were a lively bunch and he’s been so supportive of the club and we’re really proud of him.
Chessum’s move to Nottingham allowed him to hone his skills in senior rugby. His director of rugby was Neil Fowkes, who left Lady Bay in 2021 to turn a part-time scrum coaching role at Wasps into a full-time gig.
“Ollie came to Nottingham through a partnership with Leicester Tigers,” Fowkes said. “Dave Wilkes, their academy manager there, had been working with Ollie for a short time, only six months, they thought he had talent and wanted to keep him in the game.
“He came to Nottingham and got into the full-time environment there, which he needed with a full-time S&C [strength and conditioning] and a training program that allowed him to really flourish during this first season.
“He’s a big boy!” It was my first impression. It’s always great to see a 6-foot-7 second row/rear row walk through the door, especially in the championship. After that, it was how hard he worked. Very modest, hard working, asking the right questions at the right time. Andy Kyriacou was the forwards coach there. He was just a real diligent guy around what he had to do. He was very impressive for a 19 year old.
“His athleticism was clear enough to be seen early on. The way he moves is pretty awesome, and all those physical attributes. He also had a real appetite for the game, in terms of physics, which will always help.
Fowkes played a key role in alerting Leicester Tigers to the talent who had failed to make it into their academy, but seized his second opportunity with both hands to become an established senior player, and now join the English ranks as well.
“I think it’s great,” Fowkes added. “He will say himself that he still has a long way to go in the game, and he is still learning, but it shows, if you play well and raise your hand in one of the most competitive competitions in the world, you’re going to have opportunities. Fair play for Ollie.
For Kesteven RFC, it was the start of a year like they have never seen before. Another of their alumni over 6ft 5in tall, Geordie Irvine of Northampton Saints, represented the England Under-20s against Oxford University in the Six’s campaign warm-up match Team nations.
“We are overwhelmed with joy at Ollie’s selection,” club chairman Angus Shaw said. “It is a testament to his hard work and talent that at 21 he has been recognized as worthy to rub shoulders with the legends of the game.”
He added: “In the 75-year history of the club, we’ve never had a full international in our ranks. Like the buses, it seems like we have two at a time!