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Ollie Hassell-Collins: I am open to playing for Wales if my England career stalls

Ollie Hassell-Collins - Ollie Hassell-Collins: I am open to playing for Wales if my England career stalls

In the past 12 months, there have been few who embody the highs and lows of professional rugby like Ollie Hassell-Collins. One minute, the wing was rollicking around Twickenham on his England debut, as a London Irish player, in last year’s Calcutta Cup before retaining his place for the visit of Italy a week later; the next, London Irish do not exist as a professional entity, and Hassell-Collins has not been seen in the white of England since.

A move to Leicester, engineered by Steve Borthwick during his time in the East Midlands, had many believing that Hassell-Collins would be a mainstay of the England head coach’s plans for the national team for years to come. But after being dropped in last year’s championship, the 25-year-old was left out of the World Cup, the Six Nations squad, and, despite being picked in the wider squad, did not even feature on Sunday in England A’s victory against Portugal.

Hassell-Collins’s drop down the English pecking order led Warren Gatland to cite his case as someone he would have been keen to select, when the Wales head coach was facing questions about dual-qualified Immanuel Feyi-Waboso’s international ambitions.

Hassell-Collins, if he does not represent England – or their A team – this year or next, would qualify for Wales in February 2026. Most importantly, however, it is something the wing would consider.

“I have seen Gatland’s interview,” Hassell-Collins told Telegraph Sport in the build-up to England A’s win over Portugal.

“I’ve got two caps for England, and obviously I’m English. But if I don’t see anything in the next few years then it’s definitely something that I would consider.

“I would qualify [for Wales] the year of the World Cup – that is, if he still wants me. Wales is still part of who I am. My grandma was Welsh and I still have family over there. It’s still a part of me – and I’d never turn it down – but for now it’s England for me.”

Ollie Hassell-Collins - Ollie Hassell-Collins: I am open to playing for Wales if my England career stalls
Hassell-Collins (right) made his international debut in last year's Calcutta Cup - Getty Images/Shaun Botterill

Hassell-Collins clearly still harbours international ambitions but he insists they are not burning away at him, and there has been little in the way of self-pity or wallowing. The wing is part of a Leicester squad that is in a decent league standing ahead of the business end of the season, with a round-of-16 Champions Cup tie at Leinster and a Premiership Rugby Cup final to look forward to. Hassell-Collins’ focus is on Leicester, playing well and catching the eye of Borthwick who, given he recruited the wing at Leicester, is clearly a fan. There is still ample time before that 2026 deadline for Hassell-Collins to force his way back into the selection conversation.

“I can’t control who he picks,” said Hassell-Collins. “There’s nothing I can do about that and no point dwelling on it. It’s a short career and I want to enjoy it as much as I can. I’m loving my time at Leicester at the moment. I’m not going to be sitting here worrying about who he’s going to pick. First of all, I need to play well for my club and then if it happens, great. If not, I’m loving life at Leicester and we’re starting to pick up some momentum in the league, which will push us on towards the end of the season.

Ollie Hassell-Collins - Ollie Hassell-Collins: I am open to playing for Wales if my England career stalls
Hassell-Collins painted his fingernails in England colours 12 months ago

“We have chatted throughout the season. The main thing he wants to see from me is getting my hands on the ball. There’s only so much I can control in that, but as long as I’m working off my wing, getting connected to people, showing that I’m trying to get on the ball, hopefully he sees that. Then, if I do get the ball, brilliant, but if not, as long as I’m in the right positions to get on the ball, then that’s a good sign as well.

“But I haven’t been beating myself up about it. I don’t think you can. It’s a short career. Maybe back in the day, I might have, but now it’s all about me. I’m happy going into Leicester every day, and enjoying life.

“I’m at the age where I’m mature enough to understand that I can’t go around beating myself up about missing out on the World Cup or the Six Nations. It’s about getting my head down, getting better, and working on what I need to. And, if it happens, great. If not, I just need to keep trying to get better. I want to win stuff with Leicester.”

England’s loss could be the Tigers’ gain. Who knows? By 2026, it could be Wales’s, too.

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