Sleightholme making the most of 'massive step up' at Saints

Ollie Sleightholme is making his mark at Saints
Ollie Sleightholme is making his mark at Saints

Ollie Sleightholme is not the first player to be asked about his dad's career in rugby, and he certainly won't be the last.

But the 18-year-old wing handles the questions well and stands out in his own right as he bids to do the same on the field at Franklin's Gardens in years to come.

Sleightholme is aiming to follow in the footsteps of father John, who played for Saints between 1997 and 2003.

And things are certainly going in the right direction for Sleightholme Junior, who stepped up to the Senior Academy ranks at the Gardens this summer.

He has strutted his stuff for England in the Commonwealth Games last year, helping his country to claim a silver medal in the Bahamas.

And now Sleightholme is dealing with the challenges of making the step up at Saints.

"Coming into this senior environment is just a massive step up from what we were doing at 18s," said the youngster, who joined Saints at the age of 13.

"It's another level, a lot harder and you have to be a lot more physical, a lot quicker and you've just got to make that step up as quick as you can.

"The first couple of weeks are tough but you start to get into your stride a bit more, your body starts to get a bit more used to the training and it becomes a bit easier.

"You've just got to tell yourself that you are going to make mistakes and it's about what you do with that mistake.

"How you adapt on what you've done will define whether it's a mistake you should have made or not and whether you're going to develop further from that."

But Sleightholme, whose formative years in rugby were spent at Old Scouts, is revelling in life at his boyhood professional club.

"It's such a great club because everyone's friendly, everyone's ready to help you," he said.

"If you ask someone something, they're not going to ignore you, they tell you what you need to know."

And if there's something Sleightholme can't find out at the club, he can simply head home and ask his dad, who won 12 Test caps as a wing for England.

"Dad didn't put a lot of pressure on me to play. He said: "If it's rugby, it's rugby - if it's not, don't worry," said Sleightholme.

"I don't think it makes a difference that dad played here apart from the fact he can give me advice.

"He's been there, done it and he can tell me what he thinks and whether I'm doing the right thing and what I should be doing.

"I vaguely remember him playing and I remember coming to the club because he worked at the club for a bit after he finished playing.

"I remember coming here a few times, but not much more than that."

But John is not necessarily who Ollie bases his game on, with a New Zealand star and an England ace providing plenty of inspiration.

"When I've been doing some of my work-on stuff, I've looked at Rieko Ioane and stuff that he does to get better," Sleightholme explains.

"And I've also looked at Elliot Daly as well because his kicking game is good and I want to develop my kicking game and make that better.

"You've got to have as many cards in your bag as you can so that you can pull them out and give yourself that option if you need it."

Saints supporters are set to get the chance to see what cards Sleightholme possesses when the Premiership Rugby 7s series rolls back into Franklin's Gardens on Friday evening.

And when asked what fans can expect to see from him, Sleightholme, who featured in the sevens and a pre-season friendly against Nottingham last year, replies in modest fashion.

"I'm quite quick, I try to beat a man," he said. "We'll have to see.

"Playing in the sevens will give us a chance to show ourselves off and show the coaches what we can do.

"We've got quite a new set of coaches here, with some who haven't seen us play as much, so we get to show them what we can do, which is great for younger lads who don't get as many opportunities."