The Interview | Olly Hartley
THINGS CHANGED DRAMATICALLY FOR OLLY HARTLEY THIS TIME LAST YEAR, WHEN HE FOUND HIMSELF BEING OFFERED A CONTRACT AT SARACENS FOLLOWING THE FINANCIAL COLLAPSE OF WASPS.
Fast forward to Christmas 2023 and things are much, much different. Much, much brighter – and far more settled. And having earned his spurs at Saracens with some sparkling performances, top of his aims this year might well be getting a shot at playing for England in the Six Nations.
He might blush at any such suggestion, but if you read the Daily Mail after his stellar performance against Bundee Aki in the Investec Champions Cup win over Connacht, some people are thinking in those terms.
“Rookie Olly Hartley put his hat in the Six Nations ring as Saracens got their European campaign back on track at the StoneX Stadium. The 21-year-old former England age-grade player scored twice, with the young centre showing he is one to keep an eye on in his match- up with Bundee Aki."
Hartley and flanker Juan Martin Gonzalez were the stand-out performers with Sarries boss Mark McCall insisting the midfielder had come of age.
McCall said: “He defended really strongly and attacked really well. To jump into your first European Cup game and you are up against Bundee Aki, you see if someone is ready or not, but he showed us he is ready.”
There you go, third part endorsement and a tap on the back from the boss. And there was more, with this from Lawrence Dallaglio on TV:
“I think this team and this tournament unearths new players all the time. Olly Hartley particularly, just look at the size of him. Huge,” Dallaglio said.
“It’s early days to talk about international rugby when a player has hardly even bedded himself into the champion side, but he’s got a big future ahead of him. If you can play at this level, you can play at any level really.”
And the plaudits just kept on coming for the 6ft 4in tall, 15st midfield man, with one of Saracens finest, Chris Ashton, offering this up last week in praise of the new kid on the block:
“He’s getting more and more games now at Saracens. The more he gets comfortable playing with these lads, playing with Owen [Farrell], learning from them all the time, he’s going to get better and better. I think you can see from years gone by the standards that the players have here – that’s why they’ve been successful.
“When you’re going into an environment like Hartley is, where you know the standards are high and you’re going to raise your game every day, then that becomes normal for you as a player and how you operate. Then you bring that onto the pitch, and it just keeps going and going.”
Last season, Hartley got four starts in seven appearances, but has graduated to seven in 13 outings this term. Slowly, but surely, he is becoming a major midfield option for McCall – and loving every minute of it.
“It was quite daunting when I first walked into the Saracens training ground. There were world class players everywhere,” said Hartley.
“I just told myself I had to get stuck in. Each and every week, it has got easier, and I’ve felt more at ease and at home.
“When you are training with, and playing alongside, players of the quality and experience of Owen Farrell, Nick Tompkins, Alex Lozowski and Eliot Daly it is like being in the greatest finishing school for centre play.
“Having players like that around you is very reassuring. They have all helped me so much and my game has developed so much through working with them and the coaches.
“It has opened me up to so much more in my game and given me the chance to grow. I’m loving it!”