Select Edition


'To have an owl follow you around, I feel that would be quality'

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Ashley Western/PA Images via Getty Images)

Ollie Hassell-Collins can't disagree with the description of him that London Irish boss Declan Kidney delivered to RugbyPass in January when he was on the cusp of his maiden Guinness Six Nations squad call-up. Quiet lad, a kid of few words was the gist of the character reference and it was spot on as we learned this last week. Appointed as his club's ambassador for the RPA's Restart charity awareness and fund-raising weekend, the 23-year-old typified how Kidney had described him when interviewed over Zoom from his club's training ground in Hazelwood.

"I think I am," admitted Hassell-Collins when asked if his boss was on the money stating that he was a rather shy character. "I assess and then decide what I want to say. I express myself in that way rather than really talking in meetings. I kind of absorb the information rather than say stuff in front of everyone, but I give little pieces of wisdom to the young lads every now and then on the pitch."

And yet, despite his bashfulness, the winger oozes personality in other colourful ways. Take the tattoos he has on both arms. Without hesitation, he held them up to the screen and gave a rundown on the stories behind some of them, ranging from holiday high jinx to family poignancy.

"That was my first one," he said, pointing to his right arm. "From Magaluf. I can't remember when. It was good craic, though. I've got this one as well, that's a stag, Newbury Rugby Club's crest, which also means protection and that kind of stuff. That is my family motto, 'By the path the hill, he conquers, he endures'. These are my family's initials, an N, C and a P, in Latin. And this is for Nan as well, she passed away last year."

The intrigue doesn't end there as Hassell-Collins is a self-confessed Harry Potter fanatic who is still so absorbed by the exploits of the young wizard that his regular go-to relaxation on the eve of a match is to watch one of the many movies that were made.

"It's quite easy looking from the outside that we are sportsmen, we can handle it but actually it's not that easy. Having Restart there is massive for the players and for it to be so successful as well makes everything so much easier.

"You can have your family, your girlfriend and all that stuff but it's nice to know we have got that charity there as well that can really help us. A couple of Irish boys had to finish early and no doubt they went to the charity for help."

Hassell-Collins always fancied making it as a pro rugby player and now that he is established at London Irish, he hasn't forgotten the helping hands he had along the way. "I always wanted to be a professional but I wasn't sure I was going to be able to do it. So I came through the county and then did the A's programme and once I got into that programme, the U18s, the academy set-up at Irish, that is what I thought I could make a bit of a go at this.

"I was lucky enough my parents were so supportive. They took me to all the sessions on a Monday night, picked me up from school and took me up the M3 to about an hour away. It was a long trek for them but they did that. I was lucky enough to have the coaches, the likes of James Lightfoot-Brown and Dec Danaher were massive for me. They helped me come through the senior academy and I'm still chatting to them today."

The infamous 'dropped shorts' try scored by Ollie Hassell-Collins (Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)