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The 'low maintenance' birthday winger tipped for an England call

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images)

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London Irish getting players into the England Six Nations squad is rare, but is that situation about to change next Tuesday with rookie prospect Ollie Hassell-Collins? The set trend is for their academy graduates to head off elsewhere to find their fame and fortune, a pattern evidenced by how the likes of Anthony Watson, Jonathan Joseph and Joe Cokanasiga have all played Test level rugby for their country in recent years after exiting Irish.  

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With Eddie Jones lately of a mind, though, to try out a plethora of Gallagher Premiership youngsters in his squad, London Irish could finally start getting more of the international squad recognition that they crave. 

They had a sniff of the possibilities last June, the unheralded Chunya Munga leading the charge in an experimental England group that initially laid the training ground foundation for the following month’s successful summer series.

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Hassell-Collins and Tom Parton were also involved that first week of training but it was the lock – aged just 20 at that time – that Jones took the greatest shine to. So eager was the England boss for the youngster to get a fast-track education as to how things are done at Test level, he asked Irish if it was okay for Munga to stay on at that camp for the games even though a knee ligament injury in training meant his activity was restricted to a watching brief.

Munga, unfortunately, hasn’t got going back at Irish this season but with the hype now building ahead of next Tuesday’s announcement by Jones of his squad for the 2022 Six Nations, there have been some media rumblings that Hassell-Collins possesses the potency to put his hand up for inclusion. Even Will Greenwood, the England World Cup winner, fancies the Irish winger for a call-up.

The soon-to-be 23-year-old (his next birthday is this Monday, January 17) has been busy in the Premiership, scoring six tries in his eleven league starts this season. It’s a strike rate that has him ahead of last year’s return where he scored six tries in 18 league starts and it would mean the world to the development programme at London Irish if he was now to get a Six Nations look-in with England.

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“He is going nicely,” remarked Irish boss Declan Kidney when asked by RugbyPass for his reflections on Hassell-Collins who in one pre-pandemic league game versus Gloucester in February 2020 scored four tries.  

“He is maturing, he is going from being the young player to now understanding his role and then the next thing is to be in that middle-age group of players that can bring his experience to play then too. Ollie is a very quiet lad, just goes about his business. Low maintenance, he soaks up information. He wants to be good. Sometimes he can try too hard but you can’t fault a fella for that. 

“What we would be pleased about is if or when they [Hassell-Collins and other upcoming talents] do get called up that they will still have London Irish jerseys on them. Jonathan Joseph, Anthony Watson, Joe Cokanasiga, they all come through here and just as they were about to break in they moved clubs but all the groundwork was done here. 

“So the groundwork is being done here and at some stage, we believe that our players are training at a level that may put them in the frame but Eddie Jones has a good selection headache because he has plenty of young lads to pick from. If it’s Ollie, great, if it’s somebody else it will be as a result of the way the team is playing rather than any one individual.”

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On the surface, the two-year signing of ex-All Blacks winger Waisake Naholo looked a disaster as he was constantly injured and played very little prior to his release last summer. However, that lack of action was apparently made up for by the off-field influence wielded on the academy graduates making their way in the first team.

“That is why we brought them in. Waisake had a very big influence when he was here. I know he didn’t get to play too many games because of a knee injury but the influence he had over Tom Parton, Ben Loader and Ollie was quite significant and he left a mark there within the club by doing that and the boys got confidence from working with players like that.

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