For fans, the prospect of knockout rugby always brings a different air to the week, the hype gathering momentum with each passing day. With a journey up north for this weekend’s semi-final clash with Sale Sharks, Leeds-born back-rower Olly Cracknell is looking forward to Sunday but keeping his feet on the ground. “For sure there’s a buzz around training, definitely a bit of excitement for some knockout rugby! A lot of the stuff we’re doing, though, is the same. We always want to do our best, we always want to push standards. Every game in the Premiership, you have to be at your best. We want to win.”
Olly Cracknell has shown exceptional versatility in his short time at Leicester Tigers. The abrasive forward has started games in all three positions across the back-row in the Gallagher Premiership this season, a statistic that demonstrates both the value the coaching staff believe Cracknell adds to team and the trust he has managed to cultivate in his first season at the club.
However, playing at Leicester Tigers means competing for places with some of the best players in the world. When asked about this, Cracknell responds that ‘It’s really hard. You’ve got to be performing week in, week out to get those starting spots. But that competition is a good thing for the squad and a good thing for individuals, it makes you better if there’s that pressure on you to perform. Iron sharpens iron’.
One of his rivals for a back-row place is turnover king Tommy Reffell, who is in line for a milestone 100thLeicester Tigers appearance on Sunday. “I didn’t know that he’s on for his his 100th this weekend, that’s an unbelievable achievement. To do it when he’s so young aswell (24 years old), it’s so impressive. He’s a top player; his turnovers are his superpower but he also brings a lot of energy, his defence is quality, marshalls our defence.”
Spending the majority of his career at Osprey’s, Cracknell hadn’t faced Sale Sharks until last year, for London Irish but he has enjoyed success at their ground, recalling a victory at the stadium as a teenager in 2011, when he was coming through the academy at Leeds Carnegie in a game against Sale Jets. When asked about the prospect of playing at the AJ Bell Stadium, Cracknell said ‘They bring a lot of physicality. They’ve got a tough forward pack, a big press in defence. It’s gonna be a tough test and we need to match them physically. The AJ Bell is a tough place to go’.