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Vesty: What England A are hoping to see from Ollie Hassell-Collins

By Liam Heagney
Ollie Hassell-Collins on 2023 Six Nations duty with England (Photo by Visionhaus/Getty Images)

England A assistant coach Sam Vesty is hopeful that Ollie Hassell-Collins can use the February 25 fixture versus Portugal in Leicester as his opportunity to remind Steve Borthwick what he has to potentially offer at Test level.


Borthwick handed the 25-year-old his senior debut last year in his first game in charge of England after succeeding Eddie Jones as head coach.

Hassell-Collins, who was then attached to London Irish, started in the Guinness Six Nations against Scotland at Twickenham and he was also chosen for the following weekend’s match versus Italy at the same venue.

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However, he slipped down the pecking order after that and hasn’t featured for England until getting included in the 27-strong A team squad that was named on Thursday morning to face the Portuguese at Mattioli Woods Welford Road, the ground that is now Hassell-Collins’ club home since his switch last summer from the Exiles.

Northampton head coach Vesty will be the England A team attack coach, working under George Skivington, and having himself played at A level before eventually winning two Test caps in 2009, he knows the value of A team exposure for the likes of Hassell-Collins and other wannabe England seniors.


“It’s a good shop window for everyone and him being no different to all the other guys,” reckoned Vesty. “Hopefully we will see the backs with the ball in their hands and just putting their best foot forward.

“It’s such a good shop window to go and do it away from perhaps some of the pressures of the Premiership week in, week out, a different environment.


“All these challenges that you have got to overcome to do it at international level and hopefully we will see him running with the ball and that is probably what is going to get him that further step up.

“Looking from outside not knowing quite a few of these guys, they are a talented bunch. There is a lot of potential, a lot of good, dangerous runners, a lot of good skillful players on the ball and I think we will be able to play quite a fast game. We will be able to move the point of attack well and have lots of threats doing that with some good power carriers as well.”

The group of 27 named on Thursday will be added to next Tuesday evening after Borthwick decides on his match day 23 to face Scotland in the Six Nations on February 24, the day before the A team game in Leicester.

Some players who don’t make the Six Nations cut will be released to Skivington and co, which was why an area such as the midfield looked light in numbers when the squad of 27 was initially named. Vesty, who wasn’t involved in the A squad selection, doesn’t know exactly how many currently in Borthwick’s current squad of 36 for Scotland will drop down.


“No clarity,” he said. “It will be up for grabs who is going to get into the first-team and that will obviously filter down… People who don’t make the 23 from the first squad will be coming back down to get some rugby in the A group. That will be a little bit of fluidity between those two squads so we’ll have a little bit more coming on that.

“I wasn’t involved in the selection at all. George and Steve looked after that. I’ve seen the squad, a really good young squad, and you can tell there is a lot of talent to choose from and we have come to a really good spot.


“We want these guys to be given an opportunity to put their best foot forward and actually really go and show what they are about and in an environment they can play rugby, they can play what’s in front of them and really go in there backing themselves. Effectively putting their best foot forward to hopefully gain experience and get further recognition down the line because it is a development tool for England.

“International rugby is different off the pitch because you get together with a new group and within a week, within a short period of time, you have got to be trying to do the same things with your teammates and that’s a challenge we should be setting our young, upcoming rugby players.

“You get that at the 20s and there has probably been a gap between the 20s and the full international team that this England A facilitates really nicely.”

For Vesty, the challenge of coaching well at representative level is something he is relishing. “It’s a very different challenge to what we are used to.

“We have put our heads together and come up with a plan of how we are going to do it and effectively it’s keeping things as simple as possible and getting people swimming in the same direction, and then giving them a load of energy to go and put that on the pitch.

“You can’t reinvent the wheel in a week, you can’t overdo the tactical side of it because the last thing players want to be doing when they are running around representing themselves in an England A shirt is to be overthinking things. We want to keep it really simple and allow them to go and be really good rugby players which they are.

“We have been given a remit to go and coach how we want to coach and put our philosophies out onto the pitch. To in a week try and implement a game plan that the England team are doing is going to be very difficult, so simplicity is going to be absolutely the key and the way forward.

“We have been picked to go and do what hopefully we are good at and hopefully give the boys an opportunity in that manner, we have been given some license in that respect.”



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1 Comment
Colin 127 days ago

H-C needs to come off his wing more and chase the high ball with more vigour. His outings for England were poor because of his lack of ambition and energy.

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