To Olly Cracknell, it seems like it happened to someone else.
Rewind five years and there he was, in Wales’ Six Nations squad at the age of 22, propelled into the set-up by big performances that may have been signed by the Amalgamated Society of Uncompromising Rugby Defenders.
A future with caps seemed at stake for the Yorkshire-born child with a grandfather from Llanelli.
But it hasn’t happened that way, or at least hasn’t happened that way until now.
Wales did not use him at all during the campaign he was selected for and they have not called on him since, despite Cracknell making nearly 600 tackles in two seasons through the end of 2019-20.
But to his credit he doesn’t spend his days wondering what could have been or what could still be.
“2017 feels like a long time ago now,” laughs Cracknell, who joined London Irish from the Ospreys in the fall.
“It was an honor to be called up by Wales. I was young and had not been playing senior rugby for very long.
“But I didn’t get to play in those Six Nations.
“You can only give your best and the back row is and has been a very competitive area in Wales.”
Does he have any testing ambitions? His response is laced with realism. “My position is that a few months ago I had no idea about my future. I didn’t play and I didn’t know where my career was going.
“So I can’t say I spend all my time thinking about international rugby. It’s not currently on the radar.
“I just want to justify the confidence London Irish showed in me.
“In addition, the Gallagher Premiership is such an intense competition that it takes all of your thoughts.
“I want to play the best I can for London Irish and enjoy what I do.”
Cracknell has settled in well in his new environment.
He scored the late try that recently helped Irish to a 21-20 European Challenge Cup win over Edinburgh and has often surpassed his new team’s counts. He has also played at number 8 for them, as well as on the flank, providing the kind of unwavering graft that characterized his displays for the Ospreys.
More than a few of his old team-mates in the South West Wales region used to appreciate him for his physicality and reassuring toughness, while the former Welsh U20 man could take a beating and throw one out.
Opponents undoubtedly think otherwise.
Indeed, perhaps former Connacht player Kyle Godwin still has a tingling sensation after being on the wrong end of a Cracknell special in a match at The Sportsground in 2019. The Ospreys lost 41-5 at the time and were under heavy pressure, but their No. 6 quietly refused to go on that day and ran across the field to make contact with Godwin in the manner of a hammer smashing an apple. The miracle was that pips were not immediately sought after.
What happened for Cracknell to leave the Ospreys?
“A new coach came in and he didn’t seem to see in me what others had seen,” says Cracknell.
“That’s fair enough.
“Coaches are paid to choose the team and people have different ideas about what they want, while new players come through as well.
“I had been very lucky with the Ospreys after joining them. I got along very well with Steve Tandy and he has developed me a lot. It continued for a few years after Steve left.
“Obviously the new team wanted to change things and I was left out in the cold a bit. I kept looking for change.
“I certainly have no regrets.
“I had a great time with the Ospreys after joining them when I was young.
“Their analyst at the time, Craig Whelan, was at a Junior World Championship in New Zealand and he pushed me towards the Ospreys. I will always be grateful for that and I will always be grateful to Steve for what he did.
“The story may not have turned out the way I would have liked in the end, but I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for the Ospreys.
“So there are no hard feelings. It’s like rugby. It’s a coach’s opinion and everyone is entitled to an opinion. I didn’t fit the mindset. That’s how it goes.”
As Cracknell says, his move to Irish went under the radar: “I hadn’t played much in that first month of the season. I played against Benetton and didn’t think I played a bad game, but that was my last game for the Ospreys.
“Then an opportunity came up at London Irish and I took it.”
Justin Marshall used to praise the merits of the Celtic League after having tasted both that league and the English Premiership. At the time, the playing field was of course relatively level in terms of financing.
Today, many feel that the competition across the River Severn has progressed well.
“It’s hard for me to say too much because I haven’t played that many games in the Gallagher Premiership,” said Cracknell. “I would have to play a season or so to judge if it is more physical, faster or whatever.
“But the crowds are bigger. It makes you think that every game has something. My first game was a Premiership Cup game against Northampton Saints at Franklin’s Gardens and there were 12,000 people there. It felt like a big opportunity.
“Recently I heard someone say that it’s like playing a European match every week. That’s a good way to describe it.
“So far it’s going very well.”
Cracknell still wants his old team in Wales to do well.
“I have some good friends at the Ospreys,” he says.
‘Sam Parry’s one, along with Tom Botha and many others. Scott Otten is another one I get along very well with. Unfortunately, he had to finish due to an injury.
“Just because you move to another club doesn’t mean you lose your friends at the old one.
“You want your friends to do well.
“Like I said, without the opportunities I had with the Ospreys, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
It’s a good prospect to have.
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