Ollie Hoskins Exclusive: 'I don't think I have cried that much in a long time'

Ollie Hoskins (pictured in Australia camp back in 2021) joined Saracens following the demise of London Irish
©Andrew Phan/RugbyAU Media

At last, Ollie Hoskins can be positive again.

The uncertainty surrounding what direction his career would go in following the collapse of London Irish last season was the most "emotional" and "stressful" time of his life.

"I was so emotionally invested in London Irish," he tells TRU. "They meant a lot to me. When this [the club's demise] all went down, I don't think I have cried that much in a long time. It was a super emotional time for me and my wife [Amber]. I have got a bit of family in the UK but not much so it was kind of like me, my wife and my dog [Bron] and my mates who kind of propped me up.

"That support network is really important to me. It also meant it was a big deal for me in making the transition away from Irish."

Hoskins is speaking to TRU following another day of pre-season with his new club Saracens. It has been just under a month since the Australian dotted the i's and crossed the t's on a contract with the Premiership champions and he has just completed his second full week with Mark McCall's side.

After spending seven years with Irish, commuting across London each day is one of the changes Hoskins is beginning to adapt to as well as getting used to wearing Saracens kit and learning all the names of the staff who work at the club's St Albans training base. "The first couple of days, I had imposter syndrome!" Hoskins laughs. "Then learning 60 names of staff and all of them coming in one ear and out the other, and then just calling them 'mate', it was weird!"

But his decision to stay in the capital was a carefully chosen one despite the emotional strain of trying to find a new club.

"Life outside of rugby is really big for me," he says. "Me and my wife love living where we do. Even though what happened with Irish was all out of our control, we as players could still speak to our agents, and try and organise new work whereas my wife had just started a new job, she has all her friends here so I couldn't say; 'Sorry darling, we may have to move back to Australia or move to France.'

"Having that sort of stability for my wife and our lives outside of rugby was so important to me. The first couple of weeks with Sarries have been great. It has been a whirlwind couple of months but I am happy being back doing what I love."

And whilst the decision to join Saracens was first and foremost a "holistic" one for Hoskins, linking up with the champions has also fuelled his desire to continue improving as a player: "Before Irish had officially been suspended, my agent was putting out feelers in case of the worst-case scenario," he explains.

"Saracens came forward and I also spoke to a couple of teams in Australia. There was some chat around France about maybe coming in around the World Cup for some short-term stuff so there were a few options but Sarries were my preferred landing spot.

"I wanted to go somewhere where I could be in the mix of winning silverware, to go somewhere with a track record of success and a track record for developing players into world-class level. I'm 30 years old now but I still feel like I have got a lot of growth in my game.

"I think that Saracens is a great environment for me to just play with some of the best players in the country and be coached by some of the best coaches. I am just grateful for the opportunity."

Hoskins admits that if the demise of London Irish had never happened, sticking with the Exiles was all he ever wanted to do. The prop had also signed a contract extension last year, and even though he will now be donning the black of Saracens, the club that gave him a shot when he moved to the UK as a 22-year-old will always have a special place in his heart.

"I always felt that if I was going to be in the Premiership, it would be with London Irish," he says. "I'm naturally a very sort of loyal bloke. I like to have that emotional attachment to a team. It drives me to play harder and I had that with Irish in spades.

"I loved playing for the club and they stuck with me through the ups and downs in my career. They always believed in me and kept working with me. The fans, too, have just been amazing. They welcomed me and always supported me. They felt like a part of my family."

Irish's collapse arguably robbed Hoskins - and a squad full of promise - the chance to create something special. Their blend of emerging talent and experienced internationals suggested the club had the right ingredients to possibly challenge for the biggest honours.

"I obviously look at it with a little bit of bias but I honestly think the way the squad was constructed and the momentum we built this year [finishing three points outside the play-offs], I honestly thought that within the next three to five years, I think we could have won the Premiership," Hoskins says.

"We were at a stage where we had gems of players that had either come through the academy like Henry [Arundell] or Will Joseph as well as these players our recruitment team just plucked out like Tom Pearson. TP is unbelievably good!

"We had this mix of older players who had been there a while and then this core group of young guys who were just pushing us all. The potential was just unreal."

Hoskins admits it is now "bittersweet" to see many of his former teammates disperse across the globe to continue their rugby careers whilst he also recognises how tough it currently is for those who are yet to pick up contracts.

"We've still got our WhatsApp group from Irish stuff so we are chatting all the time but there are still a lot of boys that are just staying fit and hoping they get a call.

"There are guys who are super, good, talented players who just because of the nature of the market, it isn't working out for them. I was lucky in that I play tighthead and I'm in a specialist position. There is always going to be a need for that but the reality of it is, if you're like a 28 to 32-year-old centre or a winger, the market for players like that is not there so I do massively feel for those guys."

But one of the plus points for Hoskins during his time as an Exile was how much of an onus the club put on developing players. He believes without their dedication to want to improve individuals, he wouldn't have earnt his one and only Australia cap two years ago while the English duo of Arundell and Pearson are perfect examples of how Irish have helped exciting talent take the next step.

"I played for the Wallabies 100 per cent because of London Irish's time and effort they put into me. I think Irish's track record of developing players has been there for years and years, and I think guys like Henry, TP, they are going to all become, or already are, great players."

The adulation Hoskins has for everyone connected to London Irish knows no bounds and that is evident in his social media activity since the demise of the club. The launch of his very own podcast on YouTube was a way of him expressing how much the club meant to him and he still has plans to continue the venture now he is with Saracens.

"The original idea to take it forward - and if Irish didn't go under - was I was going to essentially analyse our games," he explains. "I am now obviously not going to rock up to a new club and start talking about Owen Farrell pulling the strings at 10! It doesn't really work that way!"

When it comes to the podcast, breaking down the technical side of the game and "opening the doors of rugby" to people is one avenue Hoskins is potentially exploring and when asked whether he would like to analyse his native Australia's 43-12 defeat to South Africa last weekend in The Rugby Championship, a wry smile appears across his face.

"It was a tough showing, I am not going to lie!' says Hoskins. "You could tell there were some teething problems around new systems, new coaches with Eddie Jones coming in and selections.

"Eddie, from what I saw with England, makes some interesting picks to try things out especially leading to a World Cup but in the grand scheme of things, all that matters here is the World Cup, isn't it?

"If the Wallabies do well at the World Cup later this year, no one is going to remember them losing by 31 at Loftus [Versfeld Stadium]. Last week was a slow start but I am hoping for much better this week against Argentina."

As Hoskins touches on, Australia host Los Pumas in the second round of The Rugby Championship on Saturday morning (10:45 UK time) with Jones having this fixture in Syndey and then clashes with New Zealand (twice) and France to fine-tune his squad before they begin their World Cup campaign against Georgia on September 9th.

So how does Hoskins, who represented the Wallabies against England two years ago at Twickenham, think his country will fare at the showpiece event?

"They are on the good side of the draw which helps. I honestly think that if things click and they get the selections right, they could make it to the final.

"I can't convince myself though that anyone else is going to win it apart from France right now. They just look so good and they will be at home too. I will be watching New Zealand v South Africa this week too. The South African team they put out this week, it looks actually stupid! It is almost unfair. I saw their team and I was like; 'how do you beat them?!'

"It's hard to pick outside of maybe France, New Zealand and South Africa and maybe Ireland, but the Wallabies are on the right side of the draw and as Eddie showed with England in the last World Cup, all it takes is for stuff to click and they could easily find themselves in the final. Eddie has got that track record of doing very well at World Cups so I think he will bring the best out of them when it is needed."

Due to Australia's rules around selecting overseas players, Hoskins will most likely be watching on as a fan but he still cherishes the jersey he wore on his only appearance for his country.

Before he decided to join Saracens, the opportunity to move back to Australia and potentially reignite his international career was an option but the bigger picture was only ever going to come first if Hoskins was to begin looking ahead with positivity once again.

"Playing for Australia is easily the proudest moment of my career," he says. "I was speaking to two Australian teams and they were both very keen to get me back. I am good friends with Dave Porecki who is with the Wallabies at the moment and played with me at Irish. I was texting Dave a lot and weighing stuff up.

"I hadn't had any direct contact with the Wallabies, just the two Super Rugby teams. Maybe if I had chatted to the Wallabies directly, that may have changed things.

"For me, I'm Australian but London and the UK very much feels like my home. I really value time with my wife and my friends and my dog and all that sort of stuff. It really brings me a lot of joy. We are just super happy over here and although I want to play Test matches a lot more, there are other things I had to factor into it and now I am just excited for what is ahead with Saracens."

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