To make your debut at home in a key league game must be a brilliant experience for any young rugby player. That’s just the situation Ollie Hassell-Collins found himself in on Saturday versus Cornish Pirates – so we checked in with him to find out just how it felt.
So Ollie, making your first team debut on Saturday must have been a pretty exciting moment!
Yeah, it was pretty special. A home debut always makes it extra special! Such a great atmosphere at the Madejski. It was surreal!
Did you know you had an opportunity coming for a first team game?
It took me by surprise to be honest. I wasn’t really expecting it at all. There was talk of me going out to Esher on loan in the week so I was just getting ready to head there and try and play for them at the weekend and then… yeah, it was really surprising!
Well you gave a good account of yourself and bagged a try too so hopefully that will lead to more opportunities, especially with the Championship Cup starting soon.
Hopefully I can string a few games together, stay injury free and get a few more tries. Build my confidence up and really push on in the cup as well as the league.
It must have been something to be making your debut and on the other wing to have Topsy breaking the appearance record.
Yeah it was pretty weird, but very inspiring! He’s such a good bloke, I think he’s inspired most of us boys at the academy, especially the backs. I just hope to get to his level one day and get as close the record as I can!
You mentioned you could have ended up at Esher last weekend, a few of the boys are turning out for other teams this season…
Yeah, it’s all about game time and playing when you can really. For me personally, I think I’m a player who needs game time so I can play well when the opportunity comes. I can’t just jump into the game so I think it’s really helpful having so many clubs nearby. You can just go and train on a Tuesday & Thursday then run out on the weekend.
I suppose that’s a nice thing about being situated at Hazelwood, there’s a lot of clubs locally where there are opportunities to get a game and to keep your eye in.
A big trip to Jersey this weekend, are you hopeful of a spot on the plane?
Yeah, I’m hoping. Nothing is finalised yet but hopefully I can keep my spot in the squad.
It must be quite a nice trip too. Were there any of the fixtures you looked at and thought “I hope I get picked for that one”?
Jersey was definitely one! It would be nice to go up north maybe, Yorkshire. Cornwall would be nice too.
We’re about to launch into a run of cup games. Are these games a target for you to really put yourself in front of the coaches and put your hand up for selection?
Yeah the cup games and the odd Monday night game we have are real opportunities. They count as first team games which helps. They’re probably the biggest opportunities the Academy lads will have at the moment so hopefully we can all play well in those or out at our loan clubs and push on!
I guess it’s also an opportunity to put yourself in contention for the age-grade England teams too?
Hopefully! I think they’ll probably announce something after Christmas.
You’re in your second year of the senior academy now, with a load of new lads having joined. Does it feel different now you and your peers are no longer the new kids in the squad?
It’s definitely helped being in the second year. I know the boys a lot more now, we’ve done socials and we’re good mates. I can help the first years settle in as well, which is helpful for them. I knew most of them from AASE (The AASE scheme – Achieving Academic and Sporting Excellence – is targeted at talented Year 12 and Year 13 students who have the aspirations and potential to play at the elite end of the game.) so it was helpful for them as well as me, I could introduce them to people and help them settle in. It’s built my confidence up a lot.
One of the really nice things about being in the Academy is getting to live with the lads you play with, are you with the same guys as last year?
No it’s only me and Ben Loader from last year. Most of the first year boys have moved in and Jack Cooke has joined us too.
It must be good to build that social side with the new lads too. Are you all getting on pretty well or are the forwards and backs sticking in their groups?
Yeah, it’s really good. We’re all getting on well. We try and do stuff socially on our days off, go to top golf or the cinema or whatever, just getting out of the house and doing something together.
Okay so last question from us. You lads are all sharing a house so I’m sure there can be a little friction at times. Is there one of the lads who, as much as you might like him, drives you bonkers and if so why?
Oh, probably Ben Donnell. He has no common sense whatsoever. He doesn’t cook, he gets his mum to buy him ready meals… it’s frustrating to watch.
He’s had to do dinner for the house a couple of times. He does spaghetti Bolognese and he’s there with the frying pan filled to the brim with mince, then he tips the pasta on top and it goes everywhere. He leaves the kitchen a mess, it’s really annoying!
Our thanks to Ollie and to all at London Irish for their ongoing support. This interview was carried out by Matt Merritt from @RugbyLI.