There have been few more passionate members of the Oaks senior squad than Oliver Shirtcliff. A ‘born and bred’ Oak, Shirtcliff has risen through the ranks of the Club from mini and junior, winning the National Plate Final with the Academy at Under 17 level and playing an integral part for the 1st XV that won promotion to London 1 South. A talented ball player with an exceptional accuracy of pass, his career has seen him take the 9, 15 and now 10 shirt for the Club.
This weekends match against Medway RFC will see Shirtcliff take to the field for his 100th league appearance, an exceptional achievement and made even more special by the fact he is still only 25 years old.
Attending Sutton Valance for secondary school, Shirtcliff was part of the successful junior age group that produced current Senior squad members, Will De Smith, Josh Pettet, Seb Goodhuw and Jonny Short as well as others that have represented the 1st XV in recent years such as his cousin Zandy Medhurst, Tom Naismith, Dom Saunders, Charlie Roberts, Ben Summers and George Beale. That side, arguably the most successful in recent Oaks history, went on to win the National Plate Final at Northampton Saints under the watchful eye of current Oaks coaches Adam Bowman and Mark Reay, as well as Ollie’s father Andy and Oaks legend Jon Muchmore.
Having graduated from the Academy, Shirtcliff soon made his mark in the Senior set-up, making his 1st XV debut against Old Mid Whitgiftian and regularly playing for the 1st XV despite his University commitments in Birmingham. A popular player with his peers, he was also part of the successful Squirrels 7s team that was victorious at the Bournemouth 7s. The 2015-16 season saw Shirtcliff play a pivotal part in Oaks promotion to London South 1, with the 1st XV winning the play-off match against London Cornish on a sunny April afternoon. Since then, he has continued to be part of a Squad that has evolved under the stewardship of Adam Bowman and it is fitting that the side are currently enjoying their finest run of games since that promotion season.
‘As someone who joined the club at 6 years old and has played throughout each age group, the ultimate goal was to be able to represent this club at 1st team level’ says Shirtcliff. ‘To now be part of a select group of individuals that have reached 100 caps is an extremely proud, emotional and pretty humbling moment. Especially so given other Shirtcliffs that have worn the navy and gold before me and helped me get to this point.’
‘I’ve coached Oliver now for coming up to ten years and he has Sevenoaks Rugby Club running through his blood’ says Head Coach Adam Bowman. ‘He’s incredibly passionate about the Club and is one of the central figures within the Squad. He sets the standard at training and is a big voice and motivator throughout the week and then on match day. I’ve been really impressed with him this year in particular and his desire to improve areas of his game that needed work on. He’s gone away with the right attitude and been very impressive so far this season. I think we forget sometimes that he’s still only 25, so he’s got lots more rugby in him and will no doubt be a central part of the squad for many more years to come.’
‘I’d say he’s matured as a player significantly over the past year and has worked incredibly hard to improve that area of his game’ said his backs coach Matt Bates. ‘Ollie has always had the skill set, but the biggest improvement for me is his temperament on the field and I think playing in various positions in the back line has helped him see the game from different perspectives. Off the field, he represents what we are about as a senior squad and has always been very welcoming to new players coming into the fold and I know guys like Isaac Winter when he was here, Dan Power and Nigel Gumbleton value the time that Ollie takes to make them feel welcomed into the squad. He knows how important it is to make players feel welcome and it’s a special quality to have’
Shirtcliff himself echoes those thoughts and clearly sees Sevenoaks Rugby Club as more than just a team to play rugby for on a Saturday, saying ‘personally, this rugby club has been more than just a couple of hours on a Saturday or a Sunday. It has acted like an extended family to me and given me more than I could have ever asked for. To be able to reach this milestone alongside the current group of players, coaches and supporters that we have, some of which I’ve known for a number of years and have learnt a huge amount from, is something I will always cherish.’
And his current captain Stuart Coleman, a centurion himself, clearly enjoys having the playmaker in his team. ‘Ollie is similar to me in that he has played mini and junior rugby here before going into the Seniors’ says Coleman. ‘As a captain, he helps me hugely on match day, motivating the players in the warm up and before we go out – his passion for the Club is there for all to see and that is a huge part of being at this rugby club – understanding the history and playing for those that have gone before us. Ollie gets that 100%’
Club President Mike Wooldridge has known Shirtcliff for over 20 years, watching him move through the age groups and into the Seniors, saying ‘I am absolutely delighted that Ollie Shirtcliff has reached the landmark 100 caps. He is a delightful young man and a credit to his family and the Club. Having known Ollie since childhood, and taught him to pass off with both hands during summer holidays in Southwold, (it was actually the other way round), he has grown up at SRFC through the age groups and matured into a fine rugby player.’
And he’s not done there. At 25 and in good form, few would bet against him to add many more caps to his name over the coming seasons with the fly half commenting ‘There have been some incredible highs along the way, none more so than our promotion a couple of years back, and I have a feeling there are many more to come - recent results coupled with a fairly young squad would certainly suggest so. Being only 25, I’m now looking forward to the challenges that the next 100 caps bring whilst hopefully chasing down Mark Ridouts long standing record along the way!
From everyone at Sevenoaks Rugby Club, congratulations Ollie, you are now part of two very special Clubs!