The Premiership this season has thrown up some very talented new players, and one of those has been London Irish winger Ollie Hassell-Collins. He has scored seven tries in the current season, making him the joint top scorer so far, along with another starlet in Gloucester’s Wales international winger Louis Rees-Zammit, Wasps winger Zach Kibirige, Saracens back row Ben Earl and Bristol Bears back Luke Morahan. Hassell-Collins has also made 15 clean breaks this season, and both of these stats lead us to the subject of this article.
In London Irish’s game against Gloucester at the Madejski Stadium this season, back in February, Hassell-Collins scored four tries. This article will look at each of those four tries, breaking down each one tactically, and looking at what London Irish did and what Gloucester did that allowed each one to be scored.
The first try
The first try was scored very early on in the game. The image below shows how it came about.
Here, we see how a scrum has taken place just in front of the Gloucester try line, and this is why a gap has appeared. Scrums are tactically very important, because they ensure that half of the opposing team are drawn into one area of the pitch, leaving gaps in the defensive line behind them. Hassell-Collins is on the blindside of the pitch, which also gives him an advantage over the Gloucester defence.
This image shows the way the ball moved from the outside of the scrum towards Hassell-Collins. The green arrows mark the passes made by London Irish, firstly by scrum-half Nick Phipps to fly-half Stephen Myler, and then by Myler out to Hassell-Collins. This is very important to bring up, because had the pass been made straight to the winger, then it would have increased the chances of it being intercepted by the Gloucester defenders. They could have then had a clear run through to the London Irish try line at the other end of the pitch.
The accurate passing by Phipps and Myler also helped this try to come about, as we can see from the arrows, and from Myler’s and Hassell-Collins’ current positions, that they passed and received the ball whilst on the move, which increased the speed of the move, taking time away from the Cherry and Whites’ defence. This is also shown by the way that the scrum is still fairly intact even after the whole move was over, and the rapidity of the try is therefore evident.
There is another very small thing that contributed towards the try, which we can see in the image below.
The image is not very clear, but what we are looking at is the body position of Nick Phipps. The scrum is happening in front of him, but he has got the ball and looked around to see where Myler is. Now this might seem like a very small thing, but let us put it this way. If Phipps had taken the ball out of the scrum the way he is now, but then turned his body to face the other way before passing the ball, as some might have done, then that would have taken time away from London Irish, and would have increased the chances of the ball being intercepted, or Myler or Hassell-Collins being tackled or taken into touch. It really is the little things that matter when looking at these situations in rugby union.
The second try
The second try was scored when London Irish again had control of the ball at a breakdown situation.
Here, we see how Gloucester have lined up across the try line, whilst the blindside, where Hassell-Collins is positioned, is relatively unguarded. However, in order to ensure that the winger has as much space as possible, Irish play the ball back across the pitch, as shown by the green arrow.
The result of this is that Gloucester focus, as you would probably expect, on the ball’s position. When it eventually comes back towards Hassell-Collins, he is still in space, but has a clear route through to the try line, as you can see below.
Here, Hassell-Collins’ pace and quick feet enable him to get through the defensive efforts of the Gloucester players, and go over for his second try of the match. The defence is trying to come across, but because they looked to mostly move away from this area, they lost the time they needed to get across and block the run of Hassell-Collins.
There isn’t as much to talk about with this try as there was with the first. However, what is clear is that, whilst Hassell-Collins would have been able to score if the ball had come to him the first time, it is certain that the movement of the ball away from him initially gave him a little more space, and that certainly helped.
The third try
The third try was scored from an interception by Hassell-Collins, and a clear run through to the try line from it.
Here, we see how this try came about. Let’s break this down and see what is going on in this image.
Firstly, Gloucester are in attack, and are looking to play the ball through to star winger Louis Rees-Zammit, with centre Billy Twelvetrees in possession in this image. They could pass the ball using the middleman, who is the other winger on the pitch for the Cherry and Whites, England’s Ollie Thorley. However, he decides to play the ball straight to Rees-Zammit. The red arrows show the route the ball could have taken if Gloucester had passed through Thorley to Rees-Zammit, whereas the yellow arrow shows the route the ball actually took from Twelvetrees to Rees-Zammit.
However, Ollie Hassell-Collins has seen this, and is looking to intercept the ball whilst it is in the air. This is marked by the first black arrow, which ends at the point he takes the ball in its path to Rees-Zammit, and the second black arrow shows his run through the Gloucester line and his route through to the try line.
The key thing to mention with this try is that, whilst it was an interception that caused it, Hassell-Collins and London Irish would never have had that opportunity to take the ball in the first place if Gloucester had looked to pass the ball through Thorley.
You can see why Gloucester wanted to play this pass though, because they wanted to get the ball out to the wing as quickly as possible. However, Twelvetrees hadn’t thought about where Hassell-Collins was, and because the direct pass to Rees-Zammit necessitated the ball going into the air, it made it easy for Hassell-Collins to then make the interception. This decision-making by Gloucester is unfortunately symbolic of their season so far, and is a big reason why they are struggling this season.
The fourth try
As if a hat-trick wasn’t enough for the 21-year-old winger, he managed to get another try, and this one we shall break down into its different stages.
Firstly, here we see how Louis Rees-Zammit (in the red circle) has drifted off his wing, coming inside the pitch. This has left a gap between him and the touch line, which is marked by the black line. Ollie Hassell-Collins is in the black circle, looking to use this space when he can.
Here, London Irish fly-half Stephen Myler (wearing number 10) is looking to play the ball to a teammate. He has delayed his pass, and this has taken one Gloucester player out of position. That enables Myler to then make a clean pass through, and, whilst seemingly a small point to make, this is another big reason why the try was scored, because if the ball had been intercepted here by Gloucester, the move would have broken down.
In this third stage, you can see how the player who received the ball from Myler is now in the clear, and can run past the main Gloucester defensive effort. You see how the two green arrows show that Ollie Hassell-Collins has joined him in this run.
The other thing to point out in this image is that Rees-Zammit, who you remember had come off his wing and drifted inside, is now looking to race back and avert the danger (he is in the red circle again). However, it is because of his movement inside that this space opened up, and so, unfortunately for him, the damage had already been done.
Finally, we see here how the ball is now clear of the Gloucester back line, and whilst Rees-Zammit is still trying to race back, he can’t prevent either Irish player from getting ahead of him. Instead, the last Gloucester defender is looking to prevent the attack from turning into a try, but because it is a 2-v-1, he has no support, and no real hope of doing so. All it takes is for a careful offload, as shown by the green arrow, to take place, and Hassell-Collins can run through to the try line, as the black arrow marks.
Therefore, this try has been scored through a combination of poor positioning by Louis Rees-Zammit, and good tactical play by Myler early on, and then London Irish when they made the final offload to play Hassell-Collins through. By breaking it down, we have seen how this try came about tactically from start to finish.
In conclusion, Ollie Hassell-Collins is a very talented player. Whilst this is not a full player analysis, as we haven’t looked at his general play, we have gained a good idea of it through these four separate sets of try analysis. When you consider how quick he is, and how nimble he is with his footwork, it isn’t hard to see why he is so highly rated, and why a lot of notice has been given to him over this season. Still only 21, there is plenty of time for him to get even better.