March 11 2014 Latest news:
By James Cunliffe
Friday, January 31, 2014
Hayden Smith will be a force in the Premiership next season, according to Saracens forward coach Alex Sanderson.
The lock made his second debut for the club on Sunday as Sarries toppled Newcastle Falcons 41-8 to book their place in the LV= Cup semi-finals with one group game to spare.
The Australian, who began his sporting career with a US basketball scholarship before switching to rugby, re-signed for the Hendon club seven weeks ago after leaving them in 2012 for a spell in the NFL as a tight-end with American football franchise New York Jets.
Sanderson said: “Hayden is a good friend of mine, let alone a brilliant rugby player.
“From his transition from basketball, to rugby, to NFL and now back to rugby, we’re very lucky to have him back.
“You saw his physicality in the second row [against Newcastle] and his ability to make hits, and that’s only four weeks back into rugby training.
“When you put another two or three months behind him then he’s going to be another force in the Premiership.
“He’s certainly a good athlete and hopefully he’ll get his feel back for the sport ever more so over the next few months and he’ll be a good addition for the squad.”
After the glitz and glamour of the NFL, Smith returned to England and got back into the swing of rugby by playing for National League One outfit Old Albanians – the St Albans club where Saracens share a training headquarters.
Sanderson revealed that the LV= Cup campaign, which has seen Sarries blood their academy stars and first team fringe players, was targeted for Smith’s first game back in the black and red.
“We’ve planned his training to come back strong for these LV= Cup games,” the coach said.
“He’s been playing for OAs. So he’s gone from the NFL with the New York Jets to Old Albanians and it just shows the measure of the man and how humble he is.
“He needs to put the work in and he’s still got some way to go but come the start of next season, once the conditioners have had their way with him, he’ll be a better player.”
Smith was delighted after his first hit-out at Allianz Park on Sunday, which saw his side seal their spot in the Anglo-Welsh Cup semi-finals.
He said: “It was so much fun. I’ve really missed being out there, we played really well, got on the front foot and it was a really enjoyable day.
“I’ve been training and playing a couple of games with Old Albanians, which definitely helped to knock a bit of the rust off but it’s still a work in progress and there’s a lot of work and detail I have to put in.
“Overall it was just so much fun to be out there and playing the game again. It really put a smile on my face.
“We’ll wait and see how we go from here but I am under no illusions that I am coming back, I haven’t played in a long time and there’s work to be done.”
Smith will hope to feature again this Saturday as Saracens travel to Franklin’s Gardens to face a Northampton Saints side who have also qualified for the last four of the LV= Cup.
The winner will be guaranteed a coveted home semi-final but Sarries also have revenge on their minds as Saints remain the only side to have beaten them domestically this term with a 41-20 rout in October.
Sanderson said: “It is always tough up there. We owe them one because they embarrassed us last time.
“The lads are already taking about it. We are 80 minutes away from a home semi-final and we want to win this cup. We said that right from the start.”
Sarries showed their strength and depth last week by naming two separate sides and coming away with victories against Currie Cup champions Sharks and then Newcastle 24 hours later.
Sanderson expects that the squad they take to the east midlands for their final Pool One game will have a few more established stars involved than the one that thrashed Falcons.
Sanderson said: “I can imagine the bench being stronger next week with Mouritz Botha coming back in and Petrus du Plessis, both of whom wanted to play [against Sharks].
“So it will be a slightly stronger squad but the core of this team is the one that’s hopefully going to take us to LV= Cup glory.”