March 11 2014 Latest news:
Exclusive by James Cunliffe
Thursday, December 12, 2013
Hayden Smith says he feels “very lucky” to have sealed a return to Saracens, having completed a remarkable conversion back to rugby union from American football.
The 28-year-old Australian lock left Saracens last year to make the rare switch across the pond, where he transformed into a tight-end for the New York Jets, playing six NFL games in 18 months while State-side.
After being released by the Jets at the end of the US season, he trialled at Tampa Bay and was considering other offers before deciding on a return to rugby with the club where he was part of the 2011 Premiership winning squad.
“There are some new faces but the feel of the place remains the same, and the culture is certainly the same, so it’s very homely to come back to,” Smith said.
Smith’s is a remarkable career in which a basketball scholarship took him from Australia to Metro State in Denver, USA.
He only took up competitive rugby for the first time five years ago, playing for local team Denver Barbarians.
However, he quickly made the All-American team before Saracens came calling in 2008 and World Cup rugby followed in 2011 as part of the US Eagles side – due to residency – in which he started all four games before the NFL came calling.
Having now returned to north London, Smith said: “I was released at the end of the pre-season in the NFL and there were a few weeks where I was looking at other teams.
“I had a workout in Tampa Bay and there were some things in the works with injury cover and what-not, but it got to the stage where I was looking past that and looking to making a move back to rugby.
“It [Saracens] is where I really want to be and it is the rugby club that I want to play for so I’m really excited and happy to be back.”
Saracens play Zebre for a second time in a week on Saturday in their return Heineken Cup fixture, with the Hendon side having thrashed the Italians 39-10 in Parma at the weekend.
The game will be too soon for Smith’s second debut for the club and, having to re-learn old skills, he won’t put a timescale on when he might once again pull on the black jersey.
“I definitely have to get back to work,” he said. “There’s a lot that I have to get familiar with again. A lot of the intricacies and techniques are going to take some time but I’ve really enjoyed the last few days of training, being able to get out there and run around – it really has put a smile on my face.
“I wouldn’t say I’ve forgotten everything but there’s certainly a process and I’m not blind to the fact that I have to do some work before I’ll be where I need to be.
“It’s going to take some time. There’s no rush because we’ve got a very talented group of players here. In a period of weeks or maybe a month or two I’ll look to make that step when I’m ready, and when the team needs me.”