By Rupert Bates
WATCHING THE Rugby World Cup over breakfast on the Cote d’Azur in the south of France, Carl Hayman will probably pebbledash his living room with croissant if the surprise call comes.
But he’ll have his boots beside the TV just in case.
The New Zealander, either the world’s best tighthead prop or the second best No 3 in Toulon behind a large Georgian, is available for the All Blacks, should an injury crisis hit the front-row.
Whether or not the pride of the New Zealand Rugby Union can be swallowed long enough to make that call is another matter.
For someone so quiet and reserved, Hayman creates a lot of angry noise, but that is New Zealand rugby for you. You may be a top bloke securing your family’s future and not sure what all the fuss is about, but turn down the silver fern for a pot of gold and feel the wrath of a nation.
The ‘get him back in black whatever the cost’ defence has jumped benches to the ‘he’s not good enough anyway’ prosecution. The World Cup will deliver its verdict.
The big prop was just about forgiven for leaving the country and the Highlanders to join Newcastle in the north-east of England following the 2007 World Cup. After all, surely he’d be back for the big one four years later in his own backyard, still only 31 and on top of his game.
Despite the blandishments from New Zealand, with even Opunake cows mooing for the Taranaki man to come home and fulfil his destiny, Hayman instead headed for the Mediterranean and a contract with moneybags French club Toulon.
He has copped a lot of flak in New Zealand, although at six feet four and over 18 stone you suspect most of it was not face-to-face.
“Life moves on. Toulon should be happy to release me for the World Cup and if I am needed due to injury I’ll be fit and ready to go,” said Hayman.
When asked if there will be any regrets as he settles down to watch such a special event in his homeland he could have been an integral part of, he pauses.
“Nothing lasts forever. I shall enjoy being a spectator and supporting New Zealand. It is massive for my country and for the All Blacks to win the World Cup would be fantastic.”
He likes the look of the All Blacks Tri Nations squad with its wealth of experience.
“There were never going to be any surprises. It is great to see Ali Williams in there after his terrible injuries. It shows the calibre of the man.”
And he likes the look of the young man in the No 3 jersey.
“Owen Franks is playing really well. He is a very talented prop, a powerful scrummager who gets around the field and has a huge future in the game.”
Hayman is also rapt for Taranaki forward Jarrad Hoeata.
But Hayman’s eyes are trained on the other end of the food chain and New Zealand rugby’s grassroots game, having set up a website called www.everythingrugby.co.nz.
“My old Newcastle and Toulon teammate Tom May, the former England centre, started www.everythingrugby.com for the grassroots game in England and I wanted to roll out the concept for New Zealand.”
“It is nice to put something back into the game by helping junior clubs and schools rugby, which is where everybody first falls in love with the sport,” said Hayman, a product of New Plymouth Boys’ High School, Taranaki and then the move south to King’s High School, Dunedin.
It is very early days, but Hayman wants news and match reports to feed into the site as a comprehensive resource for grassroots rugby.
“Also if anyone is looking for a new club, or fixtures, they can look on the site which will also offer coaching tips. The amateur side of the sport can often be lost in the glare of the professional game.”
The quiet man is very animated about promoting grassroots rugby in New Zealand, even if he is currently many, many miles from home. A Taranaki farm and his passion for hunting should lure him back eventually – as long as his acres have internet access for the website.« Back to Archives
This weekend throws up another set of games which could go either way.
Which player was unlucky not to make the Wallabies’ preliminary squad for the British and Irish Lions series?