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'Injuries taught me about myself' - Sleightholme

Northampton Saints wing Ollie Sleightholme has said that time out of the game through injury has helped his career and given him greater perspective.

Sleightholme is the Premiership's leading try scorer this season, crossing the line on 14 occasions as Saints finished top of the table for the first time in nine years.

The achievement marks a welcome turnaround in fortunes for the 24-year-old, who has struggled with injuries for large spells of his young career.

Only last year, he was out for nine months with concussion and a hamstring problem.

"Professional rugby has taught me everything is temporary," Sleightholme told BBC Look East.

"It can all be taken away in a heartbeat.

"I've struggled with injury and it's taught me about myself and how I deal with things. One minute you can feel on top of the world, the next you are at the bottom.

"You have to find little wins during your rehabilitation. I set myself other targets outside of rugby that would keep me sane.

"Once you start thinking about rugby when you're injured it becomes a really dark place."

'They make you feel 10 feet tall'

A rejuvenated Sleightholme credited his try-scoring form this term to his team-mates and the feel-good factor at the Cinch Stadium at Franklin's Gardens.

"I grew up coming here every other week," he said.

"It's a special place. When it's rocking there is no place like it. The atmosphere is electric, the crowd make you feel 10 feet tall.

"We are all close mates, we came through the academy, which makes it all the more special.

"I remember my debut here and it was a childhood dream come true. The motivation is to be better every day. I want to push my limits."

But while he is loving life with Saints, Sleightholme said his family's support has been equally vital through the tougher times.

He added: "Throughout, my dad, my mum and Lucy, my partner, have been absolute rocks and help with the bigger picture. You realise there are other things to life."

Sleightholme is following in the footsteps of his father, Jon, who played for Northampton, Bath and England during the 1990s.

"I let him try lots of sports and find his own way - he was the one who chose rugby," said the 51-year-old, who also played on the wing.

"The speed was there from early on. The determination too. And he's like me, he's a bad loser, and I think that's not a bad trait. We are both very competitive."

Northampton Saints wing Ollie Sleightholme
Ollie Sleightholme has scored 15 tries in 18 games in all competitions for Northampton Saints in the 2023-24 season [Getty Images]

'It would mean the world to win'

Sleightholme senior said he was proud of his son's resilience.

"I always think a measure of an individual is how to deal with things when they are not going well," he added.

"I leave him alone and let him get on with things, but when the going gets tough - and it does with injuries - you just feel you're always desperate, and that's when he can lean on me. I can help him through those stages probably better than anyone.

"It was really rough for him, so I know what emotions he's been going through. I think that's what makes me so proud - how he's dealt with those difficult periods."

Ollie, meanwhile, has become a father in recent weeks, to a daughter called Lyra.

"I am so proud of how my partner Lucy has dealt with it and taken it in her stride," he said.

"It's been the best thing for both of us. It puts things into perspective, things that mattered before aren't now the end of the world."

Sleightholme is in his sixth season at Northampton, who are preparing for a home Premiership play-off semi-final against Saracens on Friday.

He said Saints do not feel under any undue pressure against the defending champions, despite topping the table.

"We know what we can do when we express ourselves and when we play with intent," he said.

"There's always pressure but we know we have the ability. We are so close as a group it would mean the whole world if we could win."