Hayden Smith's return to rugby's top ranks

Variety continues to play a major part in Bullaburra native Hayden Smith’ successful career as an elite sportsman — and the 116kg, 202cm tall giant is loving every minute of it.

Starting off in his late teens playing US college basketball, Smith decided to try his luck playing  college rugby in 2008 and ended up playing for the United States Eagles in the 2011 Rugby World Cup before being recruited by UK rugby powerhouse Saracens, who finished Heineken Cup premiers in 2012.

An ambitious and risky switch to American Football saw Smith capture international headlines when he was picked in the 2013 NFL draft by the New York Jets after impressing coaches during selection trials, despite having no previous experience playing the sport.

His commitment and dedication in training earnt him five NFL match appearances in the key position of tight end — an incredible achievement and dream come true — but a substantial recruitment drive by the Jets in the next off-season saw him released in September.

Not one to let setbacks bring him down, Smith shifted back to the UK and was rewarded for participating in pre-season training with Saracens Rugby Club by being offered a playing contract.

On January 26 he took to the field for 70 minutes in the North London-based club’s 41-8 win against the Newcastle Falcons in the Anglo-Welsh Knockout Cup and told Saracens media he was very satisfied with his first professional rugby match in two years and his effectiveness in the line-outs.

“It was a special day and I had a lot of fun — it was just amazing to be back out there.

“I was certainly rusty in a few areas, but ultimately we were on the front foot quite a lot.

“The guys played really well which made it a lot easier for me.”

Saracens forwards coach Alex Sanderson said “we’re lucky to have him back.

“He brought a physicality today and he has a great ability to make hits.

“That’s only after four weeks back to rugby training.

”So if you put another three or four months on top of that, he’s going to be some force in the premiership.”

Smith can now look forward to playing in a strong Saracens side that has already qualified for the Heineken Cup quarter-finals scheduled for April 5 and is sitting on top of the table after 12 rounds of the Aviva Premiership.

“It’s been a whirlwind (past few months) but it is great to be back at Saracens,” Smith told the Gazette from his London apartment last Friday.

And the talented lock forward hasn’t ruled out playing international rugby for the United States again.

“It would be great to be involved in another Rugby World Cup,” he said.

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