Freddie Owsley: Edinburgh Rugby’s new speed king on swapping athletics for rugby, family ceilidhs in Bristol and his famous sporting sister

Of all the new faces at Edinburgh this summer, one of the most intriguing is Freddie Owsley.

Edinburgh winger Freddie Owsley fires out a pass in training, with scrum-half Henry Pyrgos watching on. Picture: Paul Devlin/SNS

The winger, signed from Bristol Bears, is a sporting all-rounder who has returned to rugby after a spell in athletics and a childhood love affair with football.

Blessed with natural speed, he was national 400 metres champion at under-20 level and ran for Britain at the European junior championships in Sweden in 2015.

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He returned to rugby last year after a four-year gap and spent the season at Bristol where he was encouraged by the likes of Semi Radradra and Charles Piutau.

Freddie Owsley joined Edinburgh from Bristol Bears. Picture: Getty Images

He hopes to utilise his pace for Edinburgh this season and the Scottish-qualified 24-year-old is certainly fast; he ran the 100 metres in 10.67 seconds before his sprinting career was stalled by a foot injury.

Football is in the family

The road back was long and arduous and there were some tough moments. Owsley found athletics to be a lonely sport at times and has embraced the camaraderie at Edinburgh, where he could make his first appearance in the club’s final pre-season match at home to Benetton today.

“I’ve been made to feel so welcome by the people from Edinburgh and this team,” he says. “And as much as I loved the boys at Bristol this has been a way more welcoming environment and I love the lads, they’re great lads.”

Freddie Owsley during an open training session at the Edinburgh Rugby Stadium. Picture: Paul Devlin/SNS

He also loves the city and is delighted to connect with his Scottish roots. His grandmother was from Govan and his mum is a passionate supporter of Scotland. His great grandfather, Duncan McPherson, was a footballer of some repute.

“He played for Queen’s Park,” says Owsley. “He played left wing and I got told when I was younger that we were quite similar people. He was left-footed and colour blind, and I’m left-footed and colour blind. He was really fast and I’ve got the speed gene as well. So I quite like the comparison and football was probably my best sport growing up.”

A famous sporting sister

The young Owsley was on Bristol City’s radar as a kid but his move to a rugby-playing school put the kibosh on his nascent football career.

Lily Owsley with her MBE at an investiture ceremony at Buckingham Palace following Team GB's Olympic success in Rio.

“Me and my sister were lucky enough to get a scholarship to Clifton College in Bristol and they didn’t play football there and I was gutted at the time and so was Lily,” he explains.

“Lil was an incredible footballer, she was in the England set-up but we both had to give up and she took up hockey for the first time and I did rugby and athletics.”

Lily, another sporting natural, made astonishing progress in hockey and was part of the Great Britain squad which won gold at the Rio Olympics in 2016. She is now considered one of the finest players in the country and was also at the Tokyo Games last month where she helped Team GB to win bronze.

Not surprisingly, Owsley is full of admiration for her achievements.

Freddie's sister, Lily Owsley, centre, celebrates with team-mate after helping Britain win the hockey bronze medal at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. She was also part of the gold-medal winning squad in Rio in 2016. Picture: Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images

“She’d never touched a stick in her life and two to three years later she was in the senior England team,” he said.

Having to decide between rugby and athletics

As Lily made strides in hockey, the young Freddie signed for Bristol just as his sprinting began to take off. Trying to juggle rugby and athletics proved difficult and something had to give.

“I remember being with GB juniors and I asked if I could play in a Bristol game v Harlequins under-18s and they got so angry with me,” he recalls. “Looking back I wish I’d played but athletics is such a niggly sport. You can’t exactly play a match and then go and run your best time.”

Around this time, he also came to the attention of the Scottish Exiles and trained with them in Taunton. This led to a Scotland call-up.

“I remember an email about playing for Scotland Under-18s in a friendly, against Welsh Schools I think it was, but I had to say no and I had to give up rugby completely because athletics took off too much.

“I ran for Great Britain Under-20 for a while, went to the European Juniors for 200m and was national champion for 400m. I was training for 400 but I always did better at 200 somehow.

“But basically at the end of summer 2015 I had a stress fracture and it turned into a broken foot. I’d had a great first few months of the year. I’d moved to Birmingham from Bristol and I was training with Tony Hadley in the England camp alongside Matt Hudson-Smith who went on to run in the Olympic 400m final. It was the best year of training I’ve ever had. Then the stress fracture came and I couldn’t run for a year.”

Owsley fought his way back to fitness but couldn’t quite recapture his form. He opted to return to rugby and was re-signed by Bristol.

“I wish I’d gone back earlier,” he says ruefully. “It was quite a sad time for me in athletics. I was always looking to get back into rugby and I just wish I had done it a bit earlier because I feel I could have done well, but 24 is still young!”

Ceilidhs in Bristol and a family divided by rugby

He has settled quickly in Edinburgh and is sharing a flat with another new boy, the hooker Adam McBurney. “I’m loving it. It’s an unbelievable city,” he says. “I’m getting texts from my friends and family all the time, ‘please can I come up now?’”

Owsley says he would love to pull on the Scotland jersey one day but when it comes to rugby loyalties, his family is divided.

“My dad’s a London boy and it’s a bit of a joke around the Six Nations because mum supports Scotland and dad supports England. She is passionate about Scotland. She puts on a ceilidh every year in Bristol with two other friends who have moved down. I’d love to bring some of the Edinburgh boys down and have some actual Scots there!”

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