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The Hassell-Collins 'attributes' that excite England boss Borthwick

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

Steve Borthwick has explained why he decided to give Ollie Hassell-Collins his England debut in this Saturday’s Guinness Six Nations opener versus Scotland, adding what impressed him about some other recalled round-one starters, the likes of Alex Dombrandt, Lewis Ludlam, Joe Marchant and Ollie Chessum. Borthwick has named a starting England XV showing eight changes from the team that began versus South Africa in November in what was Eddie Jones’ last game in charge.

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The uncapped Hassell-Collins – check out the Harry Potter fan here in this interview with RugbyPass from last year – has been named to start on the left wing with Jonny May having been omitted from the squad for the championship, with another Test rookie, sub hooker Jack Walker, poised for his debut if he comes on in place of Jamie George.

Hassell-Collins had featured in a number of squads previously picked by Jones, but he couldn’t force his way into the England match day selection. That has now changed ahead of Borthwick’s first game in charge, Hassell-Collins getting handed the No11 shirt for the Calcutta Cup fixture at Twickenham.

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Asked why he had chosen the recently turned 24-year-old London Irish winger, new England boss Borthwick said: “Ollie Hassell-Collins is a terrific player. He has got speed, he has got pace, he takes people on the outside, he can cut back in off his left foot, he is good under the high ball and defensively, this guy is over 100kilos and is 6ft 4 and he can hit and he can run fast.

“So I think most of us would like to have those attributes. He is an excellent player and a fantastic young man and he is brilliant to be in our team.”

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Borthwick sounded chuffed at his media briefing that he had named the team he has for his first match in charge of England, and the compliments flowed like a running tap when the coach discussed a number of other players that had gained selection. Take the No8 pick Domnrandt, who is back in the fold after Billy Vunipola wasn’t included in the squad for the championship.

“I’m delighted for him, there is plenty of competition in the back row and Alex has played well and what we will see here is these are players who play well in the Premiership and Europe. We are watching those players week in, week out and these are players that have been in good form in executing their skills. This is what I am asking them to do and that is what I am asking Alex to do this weekend.”

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Borthwick was similarly effusive about Ludlam, another inclusion in a back row entirely different from the trio that faced South Africa as Ben Curry has taken over No7 shirt from Tom, his injured twin brother. “There are a lot of players the fans will be excited about, this is a fixture the fans will be excited about. I know I can’t wait for kickoff time on Saturday afternoon,” said Borthwick before speaking specifically about what he wants from Ludlam.

“Real simple job, bring all the strengths why I picked him onto the field in an international environment. He is picked because of what he brings. He carries, he tackles, he runs and he plays with grit and determination. Bring that. That is why players are picked. I’m not asking him to be any different. I’m asking him to bring those strengths.

“You talk about Ollie Hassell-Collins, talk about power and pace. Talk about Lewis Ludlam with his determination and his grit and his fight. Talk about Alex Dombrandt and the skills he has, the ability he has to open up space. Joe Marchant, his ability to cover ground – he kind of glides across the ground. As you start looking at that, this is an exciting team. It has got a great blend of strength.”

As for Chessum, the youngster Borthwick would have got to know during his time leading Leicester to 2022 Gallagher Premiership glory, the England coach said: “It is him who is doing all the work, it is he who deserves all the credit for that. He is a fantastic young man who, while early in his international career in years, has grown immensely.

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“I watch his ability to play in the second row, to play at six, his ability to cover the ground, he has always been a fantastic lineout forward and then the props talk to me about how hard he works in the scrum and you want your props to say that about you as a second row. He has been superb. Again, another young man who has got such an exciting future.”

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Jon 4 hours ago
British & Irish Lions free agent open to Super Rugby switch

There are a couple of teams who could use a stop gap experienced head. Blues - I’m not sure the Blues have signed a replacement for Caleb Tangitau (if he hasn’t been let go to make room for Barrett) yet, or whether Reiko is going on sabbatical and/or will remain in the squad. With exciting young French player Xavi Taele looking destined for higher honors in black, talented breakthrough rookie Cory Evan’s, and a couple of utilities, in AJ Lam and Bryce Heem(even Clarke?), all trying to learn the midfield trade, Williams could be a great aid. The Blues signed key English center Joe Marchant before he was raised to that level, and were possibly in the hunt to bring back the dependable Tele’a from the Highlanders. Possible the main squeeze which would put to bed any signing here would be the battle at 10 with Beauden’s return, and the forcing of Plummer back into the midfield. Hurricanes - Jordie Barrett is off to Leinster for a sabbatical next year but the more likely signing would be Billy’s brother back in the team. The Hurricanes are light on the outside with the loss of Salesi Rayasi to the Top 14 and if no quality is found to back up Kini Naholo, the midfield of Sullivan or Proctors could find themselves on the wing and space for a leader to show the Hurricanes three All Black midfield hopefuls (Higgins, Proctor, Umaga-Jensen) how its done. Highlanders - Rotation is high as usual at the Highlanders and versatility remains a strength with a lot of the squad. With compatriot Rhys Patchell signing a move to the JRLO, the passing of outside back Connor Garden-Bachop, and confirmed departure of Argentine wing Martin Bogado, the versatility of many of the young backups in the squad could see a veteran 12 like Williams being a strong partner for the robust Tele’a. With hope that the other Umaga-Jensen brother can force him out of the starting lineup, and shifting the sides general Sam Gilbert back into 10, the off-contract midfielder might seen as the perfect option for a squad still looking to fill one back spot.

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