Hassell-Collins confident Leicester are heading in the right direction and targets Leinster revenge and top four Premiership finish
Leicester Tigers winger Ollie Hassell-Collins is confident his new side are heading in the right direction despite Saturday’s 27-10 Champions Cup defeat to four-time European champions Leinster.
The 25-year-old England international, who went to school at St Bart’s and first played rugby at Newbury, returned from injury in front of a sell-out Mattioli Woods Welford Road crowd as 11-time Premiership champions Leicester slipped to a second successive European defeat.
However Leicester, who were well-beaten by defending champions La Rochelle the previous week, will have the chance for revenge when they meet Leinster again in the last 16 in April.
“I’m loving it. We were disappointed to lose on Saturday but they’re the kind of big games we all want to be involved in,” he said.
“You could make a case that La Rochelle and Leinster are the two best teams in the world right now, so it was great to test ourselves against them.
“We didn’t quite get over the line in either of them but we get another crack at Leinster in the round of 16. I felt like we were in the game, particularly in the first half, and there were a lot of positives we can take.
“We made a few mistakes and stopped doing some of our fundamentals and let them into the game. With a quality side like Leinster, you just can’t do that.
“It was exciting, I’ve never played against Leinster, so it was a great challenge for me and the team.”
Hassell-Collins was part of the over-performing but under-financed London Irish team that finished fifth in the Premiership last season.
He played more than 100 times for the Exiles, who were forced out of business following a £1 million unpaid tax bill in June, before swapping West London for the Midlands in the summer.
Hassell-Collins, who agreed to join Leicester before the full extent of London Irish’s financial troubles came to light and so managed to avoid the stress some of his teammates experienced when suddenly finding themselves without a club, admits he’s relishing the chance to play for one of European rugby’s biggest clubs and is hoping he can inspire Tigers to more silverware.
He said: “One of the big reasons I came to Leicester is the fact it’s a huge club with an amazing history.
“It’s a chance to play in some of domestic rugby’s biggest games and hopefully win some trophies in the future.
“You’re playing in front of 20,000 people every week and running out at probably the best stadium in England is crazy. I love doing it every week.”
The fleet-footed winger has scored six tries since signing for Tigers, including four in the Premiership, as Leicester have started to settle under new head coach Dan McKellar.
The Australian replaced Steve Borthwick shortly after Hassell-Collins was announced as a Leicester player following Borthwick’s appointment as England head coach.
Leicester lost four of their first five league games but won seven of the next eight in all competitions and are currently seventh in the Premiership table, six points behind fourth-placed Exeter Chiefs.
And Hassell-Collins is confident his new side are beginning to find their feet as he hopes to help Tigers sneak into the top four come the end of the season.
“100 per cent we feel like things are looking up,” he said.
“I’ve got a really good relationship with Dan. He just wants me to get on the ball and he’s given me license to do my thing and take on defenders.
“Our squad is stacked with quality and internationals. It would be a little bit disappointing not to get top four but there’s been a lot of changes at the club, so we’ve got to keep things in perspective and look at the bigger picture.
“That said, the team on paper is ridiculous and if we can find some consistency then I think we’ll give ourselves a chance.”
Former Australia assistant coach McKellar has made some style changes since taking over at Leicester.
Traditionally a side focused on set-pieces, McKellar has introduced a more free-flowing brand of rugby which has allowed Hassell-Collins, who won his first two England caps in the 2023 Six Nations but was not included in this year’s squad, to shine.
And the speedster, who was also capped by England at under-20 and under-18 levels, feels he’s benefitting from the change in Leicester’s outlook this season.
He said: “We have to be patient because it takes time for people to get used to changes but I think it’s all positive.
“We’re still trying to find that perfect balance between what Leicester are really good at – the set-piece, the scrum, the kicking game – with a new brand of attacking rugby.
“We’re evolving and it’s just getting that to click. At Irish it took us three or four years to get that, so it’s not going to happen overnight.
“We’re getting there.”
Leicester travel to second-placed Harlequins on Friday night before a prolonged break for the Six Nations, returning to Premiership action again in mid-March.