Michael Jordan and The Last Dance is inspiring Ollie Lawrence to find his groove… the


Ollie Lawrence is talking about the people who inspired him. He grew up playing and watching a lot of different sports, so there were several of them. One could be alongside him on Saturday and another could be opposite him.

But let’s start with one who won’t be anywhere near Murrayfield and the Six Nations. ‘Michael Jordan was probably my biggest sporting idol,’ said the Bath and England centre – who is primed for a recall after recovering from a hip injury. ‘When I was younger, I didn’t watch much American sport but when The Last Dance came out, that opened my eyes to him as a character and everything he achieved in his career.

‘It wasn’t just his professionalism but the way he drove standards in a group and his desire to be the best. That resonated with me and it is something I wanted to be, in the way I go about things. I want to have that desire to be successful, I want to be part of winning teams and do all the small things that add up.

‘If you look at his career, you can see the ups and downs, highs and lows that he went through, and how much he managed to pull it around and get a team together, to be successful. He wasn’t perfect. He had his flaws. But I don’t think anyone is perfect. The characteristics he had and the standards he held himself to were infectious for the people around him.’

There is an obvious follow-up question – who in rugby typifies those qualities which Jordan brought to the basketball court for so many years? Lawrence is talking to Mail Sport at The Recreation Ground in Bath and lowers his voice to answer, due to the fact that the person he has in mind is within ear-shot. Finn Russell; a team-mate for his club but a rival this weekend.

Ollie Lawrence is in contention to start for England in their Six Nations clash with Scotland

His sporting idol Michael Jordan and The Last Dance documentary are inspiring Lawrence to find his groove

His sporting idol Michael Jordan and The Last Dance documentary are inspiring Lawrence to find his groove

Bath centre Lawrence - who has been nursing an injury - has a point to prove for England

Bath centre Lawrence – who has been nursing an injury – has a point to prove for England

‘He’s probably sitting just behind me, so I don’t want to big him up too much,’ he said. ‘But the way he is; how calm he is and the way he does things with so much ease, it is impressive. He’s one of the best fly-halves in the world and that is infectious; it has been for us at Bath this season. When you have someone like that, you have faith that you can win games.’

He has a point and England will be on a state of high alert this week as they prepare for the creative threat posed by Russell. But back to Lawrence’s idols. There were various others. ‘In cricket, it was Kevin Pietersen,’ he said. ‘In golf, it was Tiger Woods. In rugby, it was Sonny Bill Williams and Manu (Tuilagi).’

When he was emerging as a teenage prospect in Birmingham, Lawrence would look up to Tuilagi as someone he wanted to emulate. Now he is in an England squad with him and has played in midfield with him. The trouble is – or certainly was – that he was always being compared to the man he had admired from afar for so long. While they are both competing for centre places now, Lawrence would like to think that he is no longer perceived as Manu Mk II.

‘Some fans might still categorise us as the same player but what me and Manu bring to the party can be similar, but is also very different,’ he said. ‘He’s a lot more powerful than me and heavier than me. His impact at the line and his ball-carrying attributes are massive.

‘The way he has played for England over the years has been incredible. He’s someone I watched when I was growing up. He was an idol of mine and someone I really wanted to be, so to get the opportunity to play with him in the (World Cup) warm-up games was amazing.

‘That is something I had always wanted to do. He’s gone from being someone who I would see as an idol to someone who is a friend. He has always supported me in my journey, he has always backed me and wanted the best for me. That is what you want from a senior player. He has had an unlucky time with his injuries but he’s one of the best centres who has ever pulled on an England jersey.’

Lawrence is hell-bent on forcing himself into that exalted category and he has plenty of pedigree as a natural sportsman, who could turn his hand-eye co-ordination to all manner of different ball games.

‘I grew up near Harborne; a little village near there,’ he said. ‘I had a good up-bringing. My parents sacrificed a lot to send me to schools which gave me opportunities academically and in sport, but sport took priority!

Bath gave him a fresh start last season and he responded with a stunning purple patch which led to him being named Premiership Player of the Year

Bath gave him a fresh start last season and he responded with a stunning purple patch which led to him being named Premiership Player of the Year

‘In football, I started off at the Birmingham City academy – if you can call it an academy at eight years old – then I ended up at Villa for a bit. My dad is a Wolves fan but I support Chelsea. I think I went to a Sports Direct or a JD to buy a shirt with my dad and he was hoping I’d pick the orange (Wolves) one but I ended up picking a blue one with a Chelsea badge, and that was it. I was only four. My dad hated it, but I’ve stuck with them ever since, even though they’re having a stinker this season!

‘I played a lot of cricket and was at Warwickshire from 10 until I was 15. I loved my cricket – I still do now. I wish I could still play but I don’t have the time. In the summer, when we have a bit of time off, it’s nice to go down to the local cricket club, see mates and watch a game. I watch it on TV as well. If I do have time at some stage, I definitely will pop home and play for the 2nds or the 3rds.’

These days, Lawrence finds the time to play golf and he enjoys (computer) gaming, while another passion is fashion. He name-checks Anthony Watson as a rugby player with sartorial style and his own preference is for baggy clothes and trainers.

Like Tuilagi, he has a fondness for body art. ‘I’ve got so many tattoos,’ said Lawrence. ‘I had a puzzle one done which has meaning; that you can’t fit into every piece of the puzzle so just be yourself. I got that in 2020, 2021. I am quite an impulsive person, so I just decided I liked the meaning behind it.

‘All my tattoos have a meaning. There’s no ink on my body – that I’m aware of – that doesn’t have any meaning. I’ve got loads for my grandparents, my parents. I’ve got my whole back done. There are loads of tattoos and they all have meaning; they are all personal to me.’

On the field, Lawrence has found extra meaning in his rugby career since being left unemployed following the collapse of Worcester, where he had come through the ranks. Bath gave him a fresh start last season and he responded with a stunning purple patch which led to him being named Premiership Player of the Year.

Lawrence said The Last Dance 'opened his eyes' to Jordan as a character and everything he achieved in his career

Lawrence said The Last Dance ‘opened his eyes’ to Jordan as a character and everything he achieved in his career

It also led to an England recall in last year’s Six Nations and Lawrence marked his return with a thunderous display against Italy. He emphatically seized his second chance at Test level after a difficult first phase of his international career, when he was picked by Eddie Jones but chronically under-used as an attacking weapon of mass destruction.

‘It just didn’t quite click for me then,’ he said. ‘To an extent, there was an immature side, when I first played for England. I was 21 and I was probably trying to chase the game and big moments then getting lost in all of it. That setback probably helped springboard me to where I got to last season.’

Phase two with England has been much more productive for Lawrence, but he was a fringe figure during the World Cup last autumn and limited game-time left him determined to make a point when he returned to Bath.

‘Personally, I came back from the World Cup with an element of frustration so I just wanted to get on the pitch and really showcase what I can do,’ he said. ‘I have some fond memories of the World Cup, but it definitely ignited a spark in my game. I came back with a hunger to prove myself.’

Lawrence has done that emphatically, with a series of masterful displays for his club to mark him out as one of the form players of the season – and set him up for another shot at England selection. Adversity has inspired him of late, just as his idols did years ago.



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