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Irishman Lydon destined for London after a year of learning at Stade Français

The 21-year-old out-half has gained valuable experience at the Top 14 club this season as his career progresses.

Lydon at fullback for Stade against Harlequins.
Lydon at fullback for Stade against Harlequins.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

AFTER A SEASON of living in Paris’ 16th arrondissement, Kilkenny man Peter Lydon is destined for another capital city for the 2014/15 campaign as his professional rugby career takes its next step.

The 21-year-old has agreed to join Championship side London Scottish on a one-year deal after finishing an academy contract of the same duration with Top 14 outfit Stade Français, where he has been “very happy with how I’ve done.”

Lydon has racked up seven first team appearances for the Parisian club since signing from Seapoint RFC last summer, including a start against Harlequins in the Amlin Challenge Cup quarter-final earlier this month.

Some would see that level of involvement as a surprise, but the former Leinster U20 man  - who is predominantly an out-half but plays fullback too – set himself demanding targets at the beginning of the season.

“I’ve met all the goals I set myself out when I first came over here,” says Lydon. ”I do like to set my standards high and coming out here, at first, people were saying ‘Do a year in the academy and see what happens.’

A lot of people were saying I’d be doing well to get first team opportunities, but it’s worked out perfectly.”

Lydon was catapulted straight into Stade’s senior group last July and immediately brought up to speed by the demanding pre-season schedule. The out-half initially expected to be pushed out of the first team squad by the arrival of South African international Morne Steyn, but that situation failed to materialise.

“I did all of the pre-season and then the build-up into the start of the Top 14. I was 24th man for the first game against Grenoble, so that gave me confidence and they seemed to think I was in and around the group.

Peter Lydon Lydon has made seven appearances for Stade's first team. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“Barring about two or three weeks where they wanted the squad cut down to just 30, I’ve been with the professional squad the entire time. That’s been great for me, just to be training in that kind of environment. It’s brought my game on massively.”

Gonzalo Quesada, the former Argentina 10, is head coach at the club, while ex-Toulouse and Racing Métro playmaker Jeff Dubois is in charge of the backs. In terms of Lydon’s apprenticeship as an out-half, that experience has been vital.

With Springbok Steyn and France international Jules Plisson in the playing squad, the opportunities to learn from 10s who have already played at the highest levels have been invaluable.

One thing I come back to is something Morne told me. It’s on my drop-kick restarts, the positioning of my hands. I always used to hold the ball with my hands on either side of the ball.

“He showed me that if I moved my left hand, more so it’s sort of cupping the ball, you get more control when the ball bounces. That was one specific thing.”

An example of the kind of technical details Lydon has picked up over the course of the season in France, but there have also been wider changes to his game as a result of the lessons at Stade.

“From Gonzalo, I suppose the positioning in play. When I first came out here, I was very flat to the gainline. At the top level, if you’re that flat, with guys being quicker, you don’t have as much time on the ball.

Gonzalo Quesada Quesada has been highly 'accessible' this season. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“He just said to take a couple of yards, get yourself set and get more time on the ball. From that point of view, it’s been about positioning in general play.”

The major difference in training methods that Lydon has had to become accustomed to is the manner in which the coaches in France like to call the shots at all stages, rather than allowing their half-backs the freedom to decide which structures and moves to use.

“The coaches take a lot more of the decision-making away from the nines and the 10s. So the coaches would be calling the plays during the team run and even just the general structures you have.

That’s been one thing that I initially found slightly strange, because I’d always been used to the captain, nine and 10 taking the squad session, saying ‘Right, we do this line-out here, scrum here.’ That’s been the main difference really.”

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It may go some way to explaining why les Bleus are struggling to find a decisive out-half at international level, but concerns over French rugby won’t be at the forefront of Lydon’s mind next season.

Aided by his agent, Niall Woods of Navy Blue, Lydon has decided to join London Scottish, a club who have genuine ambitions of pushing into the Premiership in the near future. What were the factors that drew Lydon to moving clubs?

“I just feel that this year [in France] is amazing. I’ve learned a lot, been training with top class players, but I think at this stage of my career, it’s all well and good training and getting the odd opportunity now and then.

Peter Lydon and head coach Conor O'Shea after the game Lydon shakes hands with Conor O'Shea after defeat to 'Quins. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“I think I need to be in an environment where I can be putting myself up for selection week in, week out. Here, when you’re up against two international out-halves and the other backs are internationals… I think I need to be at a club where I can be pushing for the first team week in, week out and getting games under my belt.

“For me, that’s what will bring me onto the next level, because I’m a long way from where I think I need to be.”

Lydon’s maturity is striking, and the fact that a prominent Director of Rugby in the Premiership has made contact with the former Kilkenny College student offers further encouragement. The Irishman’s progress in the Championship will be closely followed.

Although sorry to leave “good friends” in Paris at the season’s end, Lydon’s ambition will carry him to the Championship. He will play for Stade’s espoirs side tomorrow against Lyon, and feels that his move away from Ireland has been nothing but beneficial.

I suppose the thing that young guys in Ireland need to remember is that there are only four professional clubs, so there’s only a small chance to make it in. There’s not that many places in the academies.

“If you’re willing to work hard enough and you don’t have a problem living away from home, then definitely go for it. There are lots of opportunities in England, France, even places like Italy. If you want it bad enough, you can make it happen.”

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