Big Games On Tap for Saracen Eagles
Wednesday Aug 5, 2009 in Elite Level Rugby Overseas Pros
(Hayden Smith in the black headgear for the USA against Georgia. Rob Wagner, www.dropkickphotos.com)
Watford, UK – England Premiership team Saracens gets on an airplane to fly to Cape Town for a series of preseason matches this weekend. Following that will be two high-profile matches at the beginning of the season in September, as Saracens face London Irish at Twickenham September 5 and Northampton in Wembley September 12.
That last one is a biggie, as the home of English soccer hosts a Premiership rugby game for the first time. All that is not lost on the two USA players in Saracens camp, as wing/fullback Chris Wyles and lock/flanker Hayden Smith hope to make a big impact this season.
“Camp is going very well,” said Wyles. “The two first games are going to be amazing. We get to play in two of the best stadiums in Europe. It has been a motivating factor for the guys to push each other during preseason.”
Wyles made himself a regular on what was a provisional contract with the club last season, and earned an extension. Smith didn’t play as often, pushing for time against captain Steve Borthwick and former All Black Chris Jack. Jack has moved on, and now Smith has a shot, although former Wales captain Michael Owen joined the club in June.
Smith takes it all in stride. This despite a bout with tonsillitis following his USA assembly.
“We had quite a few big physical days before I came down sick,” Smith told ERugbyNews. “Seeing that I could probably use a little time off [Director of Rugby] Brendan [Venter] gave me nine days to get away. The rest was just what I needed and I returned to practice last Wednesday feeling refreshed and ready to get down to business for the long season ahead.”
It’s only been about a year since Smith moved from playing basketball at Mesa State in Colorado to playing rugby. He assembled with the All Americans, and then played in the NA4, and by the fall was on a professional contract and playing for the Eagles.
“Despite the differences between the sports my body is holding up pretty well,” Smith said. “At Saracens I've been putting time into my ball carry and of course lineouts. I realize that at this stage I’m relatively young in my rugby development so I am looking closely at my game in all areas.”
Next up then is the trip to Cape Town, with a match against USA loose forward JJ Gagiano and the University of Cape Town on Friday.
With Saracens a little short at blindside flanker, Smith, who has some experience there, will be donning the #6 jersey.
“They want me to be comfortable in both roles,” Smith said.
Wyles is itching to play, too.
“I think we have a really strong squad this year. I am excited to get the season started,” he said, adding: “Hayden will for sure get more playing time. He will have a big year this year.”
- Alex Goff