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Leicester on what Hassell-Collins signing means for Anthony Watson

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Dan Mullan/The RFU Collection via Getty Images)

Leicester have spoken about where the Anthony Watson contract situation now stands at the Gallagher Premiership club following an eventful Tuesday in which agreements were struck to extend full-back Mike Brown’s current short-term deal and the signing of winger Ollie Hassell-Collins from London Irish was confirmed. An extension was also announced for Scottish forward Cameron Henderson.


Recent reports suggested that Watson, who returned to the England fold in the recent Guinness Six Nations following a lengthy injury-enforced absence, was in France to follow up on an offer from Jeremy Davidson’s Castres.

Having signed from Bath last summer, his one-year Leicester deal is set to expire at the end of the 2022/23 season. A move to France would have knock-on consequences for his Test career as Steve Borthwick would not be able to select him beyond this year’s World Cup and it has created an intriguing situation about what Watson will ultimately decide to do.

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He started the final three matches of the recent England campaign, taking the place of Hassell-Collins on the left wing, and was one of few players to emerge with credit from a disappointing first campaign under Borthwick.

Leicester will have a new boss next season in the guise of Dan McKellar and in the meantime, interim head coach Richard Wigglesworth was asked at Tuesday afternoon’s media briefing to provide the latest update on the state of play at the club regarding Watson.


“I can’t,” said Wigglesworth. “I’m now not directly involved in the comings and goings of anyone who is in and out of contract. All I can say is Anthony has been great for me as head coach, has been great for Leicester this year and I know that will continue and hopefully something can get done because we have seen what a high-class player he is.”

It was February 22 when McKellar was named as the incoming head coach to succeed the caretaking Wigglesworth who is heading off to work with England under Steve Borthwick, the title-winning Leicester boss who exited Mattioli Woods Welford Road in December to take over the national team from Eddie Jones.


Wigglesworth was initially involved in Leicester player contract negotiations until the Australian McKellar was confirmed as their new man. “Earlier on, yes, definitely,” said Wigglesworth about the handling of contracts at Leicester since the exit of Borthwick.

“There are a few deals to work out, but we know how tight the salary cap is. I was involved, like Steve was before he left. There is definitely a future-proofing of what the squad looks like next year, it’s massively strengthened again which is a testament to the club at a time when the salary cap is what it is. We have ended up with a really good squad next year.”

That roster will include new England cap Hassell-Collins, who will arrive for 2023/24 from London Irish, the 37-year-old ex-England veteran Brown, who had been on a short-term deal following an initial January trial, and Scottish prospect Henderson.

Regarding Hassell-Collins, Wigglesworth said: “That (deal) was done a while ago in terms of our recruitment. We identified his power and pace, he is well over 6ft, he runs 10 metres per second, he is heavy in contact, so he ticks all the things in a modern winger as well as being able to score tries – he is prolific.


“When he gets half a chance then he converts. Best years ahead of him. He is miles away from what he is going to end up as a player. Players come to Leicester Tigers and they get better and he will be no different.”

As for ex-Harlequins stalwart Brown, the coach added: “Maybe none of us were expecting to love him as much as we do. He has played brilliantly well. He has earned his deal and the club should be delighted to keep hold of him because he is a great professional, has played at an unbelievably high level, is competitive, and is a winner – all the things you want to tick off from a senior player. He is really enjoying it and it is showing.”

Henderson, meanwhile, has enjoyed a fine recent run in helping Leicester move into the playoffs spots in the Premiership ahead of this Friday’s Heineken Champions Cup round of 16 home clash with Edinburgh. “He has been great and that started a long time ago in training,” explained Wigglesworth.

“He could have had a bit of a sulk about not being in the team as often as he would like and instead he was relentless in asking what he could do to get better and we had to do things like score his training, rate his training, he wants things straight and wants things reviewed and that put him in a great place that when he got a chance he was going to take it and he has played at a really high level for us.”


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