May 1, 2022 6.00 am This story is over 24 months old

England star from Lincolnshire highlights importance of grassroots rugby

Ollie made his England debut in this year’s Six Nations

Ollie Chessum is enjoying the best time in his career playing in the Premiership for Leicester Tigers and winning his first caps for England, but he will never forget the school and grassroots rugby in Lincolnshire that helped make him the rising star he is today.

Chessum was born in Aunsby, which is between Sleaford and Grantham, and he began playing rugby at Carre’s Grammar School at the age of 13. He played for both Sleaford and Newark Rugby Clubs before giving up rugby for a year, but he soon returned to the sport he loves.

The star played for Kesteven RFC’s Under-16s and was part of the junior set up at the Lincolnshire club for around two-and-a-half years.

The young forward was brought up as a Leicester Tigers fan and gained experience in the club’s academy programme. He then returned to Welford Road in 2020 from Championship club Nottingham and his career has gone from strength to strength, including his senior debut in the Gallagher Premiership fixture at Gloucester in August of that year.

It was a dream come true for Ollie when he was called up to the England squad for this year’s Six Nations, making his international debut as a 65th-minute substitute in England’s 33-0 victory against Italy in Rome on February 13, 2022.

The 21-year-old also featured as a substitute again, for around 20 minutes of the 25-13 defeat away against eventual winners France at the Stade de France on March 19, 2022.

Lincolnshire-born Ollie Chessum in action for Leicester Tigers against Bath. | Photo: Leicester Tigers

Reflecting on the international call-up and his England debut, Ollie told The Lincolnite: “It was a special moment. I was at the training ground when I got the call-up and I was amongst some of my best friends.

“It was extra special that there were other young guys and my friends from here [Leicester Tigers] involved.

“I was nervous and definitely excited [on the day of the Italy game]. I had a bit of a giggle when they called my name, but once I got on the pitch it was another game of rugby and I got settled in with a lineout.

“It is something that, when you start on the path and decide professional rugby is something you want to go for, playing for your country and the Lions is the pinnacle of the sport. To say I’ve represented my country is an honour and something I am proud of.

“France was probably by far the biggest and noisiest crowd I’ve been a part of. The State de France was incredible and I’ve never seen anything like it.

“I’ve taken a lot from the experience. I’ve not played a lot since then, but from the whole Six Nations, training with the England squad and under Eddie [Jones], I’ve learnt things that we don’t learn in the system we have here at Tigers as we play a different style of rugby.

“There is a summer tour coming up in Australia which is something I want to go for. I’ll train hard, and play harder, to see if I get that opportunity, but nothing will be taken for granted.”

Lewis Chessum, Ollie’s brother, also plays for Tigers. | Photo: Leicester Tigers

Rugby runs in the family as Ollie’s 19-year-old brother Lewis Chessum came through the ranks at Carre’s Grammar School in Sleaford. Lewis joined Ollie at Sleaford Rugby Club at the age of nine, and then played Championship rugby with his brother at Nottingham, before joining the Tigers academy in 2019.

Lewis earned his first England cap just days after his brother Ollie when he came off the bench to help England’s Under-20s to a 43-14 win against Wales.

Proud brother Ollie said: “It was a very proud moment. Lewis has had his struggles with injuries in the last few years and has transformed himself.

“Now he’s training hard to become a good professional rugby player. He’s a big unit now and I was really proud to see him come back from injury and hold his hand up for selection for the Under-20s. I’m really proud of him.”

Ollie Chessum won two caps for England at the 2022 Six Nations. | Photo: Leicester Tigers

Despite his rise to stardom, Chessum will never forgets his roots and he will be in Lincolnshire for Kesteven Rugby Club’s Presidents Day on Sunday, May 1.

Ollie also told The Lincolnite he has been keeping an eye on Kesteven’s results during the season, with the club’s men’s 1st XV and Ladies both finishing fourth.

“Rugby is socially so good in terms of meeting people and getting together, it is one of the best sports, and professional sides need grassroots rugby to keep feeding it.

“I enjoyed playing alongside my cousin Ben Bailey, who still plays there [at Kesteven RFC] now. I am going back home this weekend as they have a Presidents Day. I’ll show my face and say hello to people. I’m a bit of a home bird, I love to go back home.

“I’ve got quite a big family back home, and everyone at Kesteven and all the clubs I’ve played at, have all been hugely supportive of me playing for England and Tigers.

“With Lincolnshire being a big part of the Tigers catchment area, there are lots of Tigers fans back home, and I am really grateful for all the support. Thank you to everyone that has helped me along the way, past coaches, family, and friends, I can’t thank them enough.”

Ollie Chessum (left) celebrating the try scorer by his Leicester Tigers teammate Jack van Poortvliet (right) against Sale. | Photo: Leicester Tigers

His local club back home – Kesteven RFC – are celebrating their 75th anniversary year in 2022, including a big celebration ball on June 2 which is open to all.

Angus Shaw, club president at Kesteven Rugby Club, is proud of Ollie’s success and told The Lincolnite: “The journey from Kesteven to England is one only Ollie has travelled and to have done so in our Club’s 75th anniversary year makes it all the more special.

“To be rubbing shoulders with legends of the game at 21 is wonderful and down to him, his talent and his hard work, he’s a real inspiration to the current crop of talented minis and juniors at Kesteven.

“He’s such a nice lad, we’re immensely proud to see him play in a white shirt, but we were always just as proud of him when he wore a black one.”

Ollie will now turn his attention to Leicester Tigers’ home Heineken Champions Cup quarter-final against Leinster on Saturday, May 7.

He missed the 56-26 victory against Bristol Bears on Saturday, April 30 due to suspension after being sent off in this month’s Heineken Champions Cup win over Clermont Auvergne.

Ollie was told he can return from suspension on Monday, May 9, but that if he applies for and completes a World Rugby Coaching Intervention, he will be free to play on Monday, May 2. As a result, he is now available for selection against Leinster.

He said: “It is an exciting prospect to welcome Leinster to Welford Road and it will be my first time playing against them. It will be a huge challenge for us and one we are all looking forward to.”