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Ali Crossdale: Newfound confidence

In association with
City Index City Index
Saracens Pre Season Training

Operations have littered Ali Crossdale’s rugby career for the past couple of seasons but overcoming some tough moments has allowed the winger to find a new sense of gratitude for the sport.

Injuries have halted his training at times and his body wasn’t feeling like it could and should do.  

“When you’re in those dark spots, things will come right but patience is key.”

Words from a young man with a mature head on his shoulders. 

Crossdale sat down with Saracens physios to get to the bottom of his niggles and has since progressed, allowing for first team minutes. 

Prior to his most recent opportunities, the 21-year-old had the chance of a lifetime to continue his development.

It meant a 24-hour flight to New Zealand at very short notice. 

“Last year we finished the Prem Cup final, there wasn’t a lot of rugby coming up that I was looking to be involved in and I’d missed a lot because of injuries in the previous two seasons,” Crossdale explained.

“I came in on the Monday and Smally (Mark McCall) and Powelly (Adam Powell) sat me down and said we have this opportunity for you which a few boys like Nathan Earle and Tom Whiteley have done.

“I went not knowing what to expect. I stayed with an amazing family in one of the nicest houses in Christchurch! I was extremely lucky to be in such a nice house with such a welcoming family.

“I was playing for Sumner who are a team in the Christchurch Premier Division and then also had the great opportunity to train with the Crusaders Academy which was incredible.”

He continued: “I had an amazing time and learnt a lot. The main thing it gave me was a new sense of confidence.  

“When you do have your injuries, having five operations in a couple of years, it definitely knocked my confidence in terms of what I could do and I think the 10 games in a row in New Zealand before coming into pre-season said I can do it and I don’t have to just think about being injured all the time!

“I can go out there and enjoy it with sense of this is why I do it, this is why I’m still going to carry on doing it.” 

Heading into pre-season, Crossdale had a spring in his step and excelled on the Premiership 7s stage as Sarries retained their crown at Franklin’s Gardens, a weekend he describes as ‘one of the best of my career so far’.  

Ticking along nicely the Academy graduate was granted a start in the season opener against Wasps in the Premiership Rugby Cup, only to be withdrawn after 39 minutes. 

“It was a very good pre-season for me and I was feeling really, really good. It was tough and a long one due to the World Cup, and I think we were all excited for the first game.  

“To then get an injury, which wasn’t the worst in terms of time out, by something so innocuous as chasing a conversion was incredibly frustrating.

“I’d had a good pre-season, a good sevens tournament and then I was out for six weeks. Although it sounds a long time it isn’t in the grand scheme of things but I missed a lot of rugby which hopefully I would’ve been involved in.

“I think I kind of took for granted that after six weeks I’d be in the same spot as where I was before the injury, however things don’t work like that. I didn’t quite get to where I was and a few niggles halted any momentum.”

“The bus journey on the way home was pretty awesome and it just made me hungry for more going forward.”

Back to square one? Absolutely not. No time for sulking; no time to feel sorry for himself.

Crossdale got to work and put in the hours to get back to full fitness and in the New Year he had earned his chance.

He was selected in the 23 to face Ospreys in the Heineken Champions Cup and would have perhaps made his European debut if not for an early red card for the visitors which changed the complexion of the match.

Fourteen-man Saracens battled for a fantastic win at the Liberty and although he didn’t get any minutes, Crossdale was happy to be a part of the day. 

“The European 23 was a fantastic moment for me. Obviously I didn’t get on the pitch but the experience to go on an away trip to Ospreys was incredible. Just to be there, do the warm-up and be involved in the squad was great.

“It was an amazing performance, one of the best of the season. When there is a red card, especially if it is front row, you know from the bench you’re probably not getting on as a back three player. It was a disappointing day for Elliott (Obatoyinbo) as well, but you have to do what’s best for the team and we managed to pull through that day.  

“The bus journey on the way home was pretty awesome and it just made me hungry for more going forward.”

And more followed soon after. Crossdale was again named as a replacement, this time for a Gallagher Premiership, this time earning his shot.

Introduced in the second half, the young flyer didn’t receive much ball due to Storm Dennis causing havoc but put in a shift defensively to help the Men in Black to a commanding victory over Sale Sharks.

“It was an incredible moment for me. Storm Dennis didn’t make it the nicest game in the world!

“We’d obviously played Sale the week before and been beaten away which was frustrating as we didn’t play as well as we can do so the big focus was putting that right and meeting their physicality. To come on and have the opportunity was amazing.

“I think I got 17 minutes; I rolled my ankle about 10 minutes in so I played seven minutes hobbling around! It was nothing serious at all but there was no way on this earth I was going off that pitch! I loved it and to beat them after the week before was brilliant. 

“Unfortunately my mum and dad couldn’t make it because of Storm Dennis but they were really excited for me and I came off the pitch to two missed calls from my dad to say well done!”

His parents did manage to catch their son in action a week later, this time from the start.

Ironically it was at the Ricoh Arena, the venue Crossdale had sustained his early season hamstring tear, where he slotted in on the flank following an injury to Rotimi Segun in the warm-up.

The game didn’t go the way of the Wolfpack, losing by a heavy margin but there was some solace as Crossdale dotted down for his first league score. A proud moment for him and his family.

“The Wasps game was very disappointing as a team but it was a crazy one for me. It was a crazy 20 minutes from warming up to going into the changing room and realising I was starting.

“It was a lovely feeling to come out and be starting in a Premiership game, mum and dad were there. To get a try as well on that first start was a great feeling but my feelings were subdued due to the nature of the defeat and how we hadn’t really performed as a team

"I really want to take those opportunities and show the coaches what I can do for the team.”

“I was incredibly proud to have got on the pitch and done that. Looking back to where I was with injury and not really having a look in, the struggle the past three or four years, made it a really proud day. I’m always happy to get through 80 minutes as I don’t take any games for granted anymore; I’ll always enjoy it, even games like that where everyone is disappointed and upset, there is always a positive you can take and I think for me that day it was a special one individually. I’ll always remember that.”

For Crossdale, looking back is important to see how far he has come in such a short space of time.

With the rest of the Premiership season in the balance, Crossdale is casting an eye on the future and the potential openings to come.

“It’s a shame the season is in a weird position right now and we don’t know when it’s coming back but when it does I’ll take the increased confidence and look to push on.

“If it’s next season then I’ll take it into the Championship. It’s going to be a year of opportunity hopefully with more game time and I really want to take those opportunities and show the coaches what I can do for the team.”


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In association with
City Index City Index

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