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Meet the Irish underage star who turned down England

Hayden Hyde is now lighting it up with the U20s after rejecting the RFU’s approach to switch allegiance.

Hyde in action against Australia.
Hyde in action against Australia.
Image: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

THIS IS NOT another Declan Rice or Jack Grealish story. The accent may be similar but the path is different; a kid leaving his comfort zone to pitch up in Belfast with nothing more than a dream in his head and a pair of boots in his hands.

Hayden Hyde had the choice of staying. Harlequins wanted him, and so, incidentally did England. He was practically at the airport when they called, selling him their vision of where he’d fit into their plans. The only words Hyde said to them were sorry, not interested.

By that stage, he’d already been in the Ireland set-up for three years, playing for the Ireland U18 school side, featuring for the Exiles – ‘getting my name out there’. His name was certainly out there on the RFU’s radar. They picked him for a training camp just when Hyde was about to sit his A Levels – incidentally at the same school in Surrey, where Munster’s Sammy Arnold studied.

It (England) wasn’t really a viable option,” Hyde says. “I mean, playing for Ireland has been a big dream of mine, it has just been really nice to make it a reality. When England made their approach, I just declined. For me, it was always Ireland. 

“It is not any bash on the English system, it’s just Ireland have always been the one that’s been there from a very young age. I know it would have been more comfortable for me to stay at home (with his parents in Surrey) but I’ve always wanted to do this (represent Ireland). So it was an easy enough decision to make.”

The hard bit was giving up the luxury of the mother’s home cooking and becoming a teenage stranger in a new city – his mother’s relatives being from Dublin rather than Belfast. Yet it’s a well-trodden path; Kieran Treadwell making a successful move prior to him and before that, Arnold. “Sammy and I spoke quite a bit,” Hyde says. “He was a big influence in me coming over, talking me through the whole process; the pros and cons of it. Obviously you have a lot more opportunity (of making it within the Irish provincial system) with a smaller player base. You have really, really good high quality coaching on top of that as well. It was really nice to have someone out there who knows the process.”

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hayden-hyde Hyde in training with the Irish U20s. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

More to the point, those inside the system knew all about him, his switch at U16 level from second row to backrow, and then a year later to centre. “That’s when everything kicked off,” he said.

He has potential. Anyone who saw him play for Ulster in last year’s Celtic Cup final will make that point. “Senior rugby game was a bit of a shock at first; the physicality was huge. When you get a few games you get a bit more comfortable with it. It was just nice to have a good game on a biggish stage like that.”

Now he’s on an even bigger platform, U20 Six Nations, games broadcast live on television, sold-out signs outside Musgrave Park, Scotland up first on Friday. “Everyone has been pushing to get the squad closer together initially,” Hyde says. “Just getting everyone on the same wavelength; there was a bit push in the Fota Island camp. Now it is about getting ourselves ready for a game, everyone is buzzing about it. It’s a big part of a young player’s career, a huge stage to be playing on. Everyone is really excited and feels the same way.”

About the author:

Garry Doyle

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