Hayman looks to the future

Date published: July 11 2015

Arguably the world's finest tighthead prop is calling time on a fine career, but Carl Hayman isn't done with rugby just yet.

Hayman, who won 45 Test caps for New Zealand, is at the start of a well-earned victory lap in Cape Town with the World XV. The side will play two more matches in August against Japan and Samoa as Hayman says goodbye to life as a player.

Few props command as much respect as Toulon's cornerstone, stemming as much from his leadership and work-ethic as his ability to ruin a loosehead's day.

Before he focuses too much on the past though, Hayman and a star-studded group have a job to do.

"We’re relaxed but we’ve obviously got a short timeframe to put everything together for the weekend," Hayman told Planet Rugby.

"Playing a team like South Africa, no one wants to come here and be embarrassed – we want to make it as competitive as possible on Saturday.

"Eight Toulon guys are here so there’s plenty of familiar faces but it's also good to meet some new guys who I haven’t met or played before, which is the great thing about these teams.

"Last year’s result (a 47-13 win for the Springboks) isn’t really relevant. Some guys are here from last year and we were right in it until half-time (when the score was 18-13). Now it’s a different side and different circumstances, so hopefully we can go on better."

Once those three games are over and done with Hayman will be done and dusted.

He has achieved something remarkable with Toulon, being named captain for their 2014/2015 season and bowing out with another European title to his name.

"The time is right for me to finish.

"Half of me is a little bit sad because it has been such a big part of my life for a long time. On the other hand I’m excited to turn the page and have some new opportunities and experiences.

"I’ll always look back on my time with Toulon as a great part of my career. Winning three European championships in a row… it will be a long time before another side does that, if they ever do.

"I had a chance to do all that with legends of the game like Bakkies (Botha) and Jonny (Wilkinson) – to play against them for so long and then to spend a good few years playing alongside them was a great experience."

Toulon though might have assembled all those top players and won nothing. Hayman recognises that without the drive and mindset of those senior players in the squad to push Toulon to their limits, there might not have been a hat-trick of European titles to celebrate.

"All of the guys were good international players in their own right, but it was the mindset we created within the team with how hard we worked and the professional approached we established.

"Jonny was always a real leader in the way he trained and that rubbed off on the rest of the squad who had come from around the world. Having not just good players, but good professionals, motivated us to do well."

Leaving New Zealand in 2007 cut Hayman's international career short, although as he points out he never actually retired. New Zealand's best tighthead left his home country long ago and while a few more appearances for the All Blacks are something Hayman wouldn't have said no to, his choice was the right one.

"I left New Zealand at the right time. I did ten years in New Zealand rugby which I think is a long enough commitment to one place.

"Would I have like to have played more Tests? Yes, I would have, but the experiences that opened up for me by playing overseas in terms of life experience, especially being in Newcastle and then Toulon, I wouldn’t have had those if I had been playing Super Rugby and then having six months on the road with the All Blacks. I don’t regret ever leaving New Zealand."

Hayman though did enjoy watching his old side the Highlanders reach the pinnacle of Super Rugby this year by securing a first title.

"It was amazing. As a former player and knowing what the people of the franchise have been through, with the financial problems a few years back and the talk of moving the franchise to the north island – for them to go through all of that and then to win Super Rugby is very satisfying. Coming from that region and playing a long time down there, it’s amazing and everyone is so proud of the team.

"I remember back in the days at Carisbrook there was always great support from the students and they are a pretty loyal bunch of supporters. 1999 was the last time they made the final so it was a long time waiting for success, but the new stadium has had an effect on rugby in the region and brought more people in to support the team which has transformed the franchise."

Despite that affinity with Dunedin and beyond Hayman's immediate future lies in France rather than back home.

Seeking a move into coaching, Hayman believes his experience of playing in Super Rugby, the Premiership and the Top 14 has given him a valuable insight on scrums and the game. Talk about an understatement.

Teams will surely line up to benefit from Hayman's expertise and rightly so. The ambition is also there to be a head coach down the line.

"I’m going to enjoy some time with the family and then reassess and make a plan. I’ve done my coaching degree in France and I’m hoping to pick some work helping out with the scrums as a coach in that area, but we’ll see what comes up. I hope to stay involved with rugby in one way or another.

"Aiming to be a head coach initially would be a bit too much but definitely down the line. You have to start somewhere though.

"I’ve worked with a lot of great coaches and I’ve seen three rugby cultures in New Zealand, England and France and understand the different ways of doing things, which I think would serve me well." 

The prospect of Hayman coaching at the top is a fascinating one. For now, Saturday is one of the final chances to watch a superb prop do what he does best.

by Ben Coles