Ollie Smith puts his hand up for more central role with Glasgow Warriors

Full-back has had to bide his time while several peers have jumped on the fast-track but the 21-year-old has produced some big performances in recent weeks

Ollie Smith has had good couple of weeks for Glasgow Warriors. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk
Ollie Smith has had good couple of weeks for Glasgow Warriors. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk

IT would be an oversimplification to say that Ollie Smith has come of age as a professional rugby player these last two weekends. That would suggest that it is something which happened almost overnight. The truth is that he has worked long and hard during the last year since his Glasgow Warriors debut to get himself into a position where he was able to capitalise when the opportunity came along.

That first match in Warriors colours – against Edinburgh last January – happened to be on the same day as his flatmate Rufus McLean, and while the flying winger [who is five months older] snatched the moment with both hands, Smith admits that he was more hesitant.

McLean is now an automatic pick for Warriors when available and a fully-fledged international. Other promising youngsters have also pushed their way into central roles at the club these last 12 months, most notably stand-off Ross Thompson and flanker Rory Darge, while scrum-half Jamie Dobie has been on the fast-track since signing a full-time contract straight out of school in the summer of 2019. Smith, meanwhile, managed four starts, three bench appearances and two yellow cards during the 2020-21 campaign.


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The start of this season hardly brought a step-change in the pace of his career progression, with 13 minutes off the bench against Ulster in round one of the URC back in mid-September then five minutes against Benetton in late November all the game time he got during the first four months of rugby.

He admits that it has been tough going at times. A bit like treading water as his pals motored off towards the horizon, but he’s a level-headed character and, after a breakthrough couple of weeks, Smith senses the long battle to establish himself will be a positive for his career in the medium to long term.

“Rufus and I made our debuts in the same game and our careers went in two different directions after that. At the start, that was really difficult to take, but over the summer and into this season I’ve just looked at it and said to myself: ‘I’m still only 21 years old!’,” said Smith, who must also have been reassured by the fact Danny Wilson had enough faith to graduate him from the academy to his first senior contract last February.

“I now recognise that not everything is going to work out the same way for those guys as it does for me – we all have to follow our own paths – so I’ve just focussed on my own game and tried to stay relaxed about it.

“It is about having that quiet confidence so that I know when the opportunities do come then I can play the game I want to play. That has got me to where I am and to be a 21-year-old playing for a top European side is nothing to turn your nose up at.”

 

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He’s had a good couple of weeks, helping himself to two late tries when making only his third appearance of the 2021-22 season as a late substitute against La Rochelle two weekends ago, then producing a performance which was described as “outstanding” by Wilson when given his first start of the campaign against Connacht on Saturday, helping Warriors secure an impressive bonus point win on the road.

His opportunity came because first choice full-back Josh McKay has an ankle injury, and the understudy has made sure that the leading man will now have to fight for his place when the team next return to action with a Friday night visit by Munster in two weeks’ time. It is a tribute to his work-ethic that he has got himself into this situation.

“I appreciate being given the opportunity by Danny, Nige [attack coach Nigel Carolan] and Murch [defence coach Peter Murchie] to make my first start of the season in a tough match, which it always is away to Connacht,” he said immediately after Saturday’s match. “I’ve just been working on my game over the season, and I know that opportunities come around so scarcely that you have to take them when they come. I was just happy to get a good 80 minutes under my belt and play a role in helping the team get the win.

“When the game time is not coming, you have to break down your own game to identify why other guys are ahead of you,” he continued. “With no Super6 or any other games for people in my situation to play in, the only way you can get better is to train better on and off the pitch. All the guys in the gym have been great, with advice on nutrition and things like that. The numbers are going in the right direction, so that’s something I need to keep kicking on with because it really helps.

“In a physical sense, I’m at a point now where I am a bit bigger and can be more of a carrying threat,” he added. “Whereas before it would always be about beating a man, now I don’t mind carrying into contact, so that’s an extra edge to my game.

“I’ve been working on my kicking game as well – that has been a big focus since I came to Glasgow – so I feel I can use that as a threat as well now and not just run it up the guts every time.

“That has given me the confidence to be decisive in everything I do. Maybe in previous years I have been a bit indecisive, which has led to me coughing up the ball for easy turnovers, so cutting that out my game allows the team to go forward more.”

Smith is originally from Prestwick and started his rugby journey with Marr, before moving to Ayr. He decided at 16 that he wanted to push his game on by playing top tier schools rugby and managed to secure a scholarship to Strathallan, where he was a member of the team which won the Scottish Schools Cup in 2017.

“We obviously had a good team,” he reflected. “There are a few guys now playing pro rugby, like myself and Murphy Walker at Glasgow, and Cammy Henderson down at Leicester, so it was a really good springboard. It progressed my game.”

 

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About David Barnes 3963 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including The Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.

4 Comments

  1. I appreciate Ross Thomson got game time because Glasgow ran out of options but he, Smith and McLean have proved that young players can shine if given the chance. They need good management – RT has been overplayed this season – but they can deliver. It would be good to see Blair adopt a braver attitude with Savala and Chamberlain at Edinburgh.

  2. He looks like a completely different player now compared to last season, credit to him, the coaches and all other staff who have helped him develop.

    The battle between him and Josh McKay over the coming years will only push each other onwards to be better players.

  3. I thought he was man of the match on Saturday – a good all round display with good catching of the high ball and good kicks out of defence as well as some good runs. Its what you want from a full back and he only had the one error when he tried to run out of his 22 and got caught. Good going when you only have one mistake in a game. Hope he gets more chances to start.

  4. Ollie’s game looked a lot more developed on Saturday. Classy display. He was a stand out player in youth rugby. Great to see him break through in the pro game and have such a balanced perspective on life

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