Hassell-Collins set to make Tigers debut as wing looks ahead to new start with Premiership giants
Former St Bartholomew’s student Ollie Hassell-Collins is set to make his debut for Premiership giants Leicester Tigers this weekend.
The 24-year-old wing agreed to sign for the 11-time Premiership champions midway through last season from embattled London Irish, but picked up a knock on his first day of training that kept him out of last Friday’s pre-season opener against Nottingham.
The England international returned to training in the week and is set to feature in Saturday’s Premiership Rugby Cup clash with Championship side Caldy.
“It wasn’t the ideal start, but I’m really excited to get going now,” Hassell-Collins said.
“If I was going to get injured, then that was the best time for it to happen. I’m back fit and I can’t wait to run out in that Leicester shirt for the first time.”
Hassell-Collins had another standout season for London Irish last term, earning himself an England debut and helping the Exiles to their best finish for more than a decade.
However, off-field financial problems, which had been hanging over the London club for some time, resulted in Irish becoming the third Premiership side in 12 months to enter administration and subsequent liquidation.
Hassell-Collins, who had been with the Exiles since he was a teenager, admitted it’s been a challenging summer for everyone connected to the club.
He said: “To be honest, we didn’t know too much about it, it all unravelled so quickly.
“We knew there were issues, but we had such a good season, the club’s best in so long, so it’s heartbreaking how it ended.
“Within a few weeks, it had all gone wrong and everyone was having to look for new clubs, even different jobs.
“I was very lucky that I wasn’t in that position, but Irish is a club I’ll always hold very close to my heart.
“I was there for such a long time that it still doesn’t feel real.”
The switch to Leicester will see Hassell-Collins turn out for one of English rugby’s biggest clubs, with well over 12,000 seasons tickets already sold.
“I’ve been there as an away player, and it’s probably the closest thing to a football crowd I’ve experienced,” Hassell-Collins said.
“I think there will be more pressure, but it’s the type of pressure you want, so I’m relishing it.
“I’m confident with what I can do on the pitch, and that I can deliver.”
Hassell-Collins won two England caps earlier in the year, making his debut in Steve Borthwick’s first game as head coach against Scotland before turning out in their subsequent Six Nations win over Italy.
However, since being forced to withdraw from the Six Nations squad with a knee injury, he has yet to be recalled to the international scene and missed out on selection for the World Cup, with England beginning their campaign against Argentina on Saturday.
Hassell-Collins, who is renowned for painting his nails pre-game and being a parent to four beloved cats, admits he’d like to force his way back into Steve Borthwick’s plans, but has a philosophical outlook regarding potential inclusion.
He said: “Of course I’d like to get in, but I’m loving life at Leicester and I’m happy, so I’m living the dream.
“The same mindset as at Irish, I’ll be focusing on performing at Leicester and if I get picked again, amazing – but if I don’t, then there’s nothing I can do about it.”
Leicester begin their Premiership title defence with a tantalising trip to Bristol Bears on Friday, October 13.