SEEING Sam Hidalgo-Clyne in a Scarlets jersey has taken a bit of getting used to after his seven years with Edinburgh, and seeing him playing against his old team-mates at Murrayfield tomorrow night may well feel especially strange at first. Now 25, the scrum-half had only ever played for his hometown team, and at the start of this year the plan was to extend his stay by a season or two. He and his partner had just had their first child and were settled in the city: the upheaval of moving clubs could wait.
Only it couldn’t. Not for Edinburgh, at least, and, after contract talks broke down, Hidalgo-Clyne faced a very uncertain future. He landed firmly on his feet, however, with a move to Scarlets, who were then the reigning PRO12 champions.
A couple of months into the season, he has just about every reason to be pleased with the way things have gone. Even the fact that his game time has been limited, with Wales international Gareth Davies getting most starts, has its positive side: he has had to compete as never before, concentrating on sharpening up and developing his play in ways he never had to in the past.
“It’s a move I had to make, to be honest,” Hidalgo-Clyne told The Offside Line. “There wasn’t an opportunity to stay with Edinburgh, so it had to be done. It was helpful that I came with my family, because if I’d moved on my own I’d have been struggling a little bit. It’s daunting going to a new place, a new environment – it’s like the first day at school again.
“Yeah, it was tough. You come down and you have nothing. We got a new flat but we had virtually no furniture, so you do have to sort a lot of things out. But the club have been very good with us and they helped Sarah-Jane with any questions she had as well as helping me.
“I guess everyone goes through that when they move. The main thing for me was the move being refreshing, because once you challenge yourself you realise it’s not so bad. That’s probably been the main positive. If I hadn’t moved I would have struggled to move later on in my career, so it’s no bad thing that I did move. It allows you to know what it feels like, and means that if I have to move again I’ll not be so scared about it.”
A different world
A switch from one team to another in the same competition might not sound like a radical step, but virtually everything about the move has brought novelty. The atmosphere around the club is different, the expectation levels are different, and the game plan is different too – although, hearing Hidalgo-Clyne explain it, you realise it would not sound so foreign to someone who had moved from Glasgow Warriors rather than Edinburgh.
“Because Edinburgh is run by the SRU, it doesn’t really feel like a club – it feels more like a business. The staff are completely separate to the players at Edinburgh, whereas at Scarlets it’s very much a club environment. The staff get on with the players very well, and it feels a little bit more like an organisation. It feels more as one, and I think that’s probably why the community get behind us a little bit more. They’re very much more involved than with Edinburgh, if I’m being honest.
“That’s a strength of Scarlets, that they have the ability to make their own decisions. So it is different, in a good way. It’s refreshing.
“It’s obviously nice to experience different ways of coaching too. I’d say that Edinburgh are a lot more detailed in everything that they do, but Scarlets’ skill level is better, and that’s probably been rewarded over the past couple of years with how well they’ve gone.
“At Edinburgh I’d be kicking 10, 15 times a game, whereas with Scarlets I’m lucky if I kick twice. So it’s very different.
“By playing the way Scarlets play, it gives my own game a different dimension. It’s certainly opened up a different mind set, and made me change the way I want to play. The way they want to play makes me fitter as well. Yeah, I am still trying to find my feet a little bit, but I’m getting there slowly, and I’m hoping for more game time over the next few weeks.
“It’s a different way of coaching. They’re very much ‘if you see an opportunity, take it, no matter where you are on the pitch’. I think Edinburgh were a bit more reserved – they didn’t do as much risk-reward sort of thing.
“Scarlets want to throw it around. We want to play some good rugby, and we’d rather try something than not – obviously without any detriment to the team, not throwing interceptions or things like that.
“We back our skill set. We expect ourselves to be high up in the league, which is what we should be doing. It’s nice to be on an environment where you go into games expecting to win – that just gives you a little bit of confidence throughout the week. Although, in saying that, we’ve had a couple of poor losses in Europe, which has been frustrating as well.”
After those defeats by Leicester and Racing 92, the Llanelli-based side returned to PRO14 action with a hard-fought win against the Southern Kings in South Africa which sees them go into this match in second place in Conference B, eight points ahead of Edinburgh.
“It’s going to be nice to see some old faces,” Hidalgo-Clyne continued. “It’ll be exciting. I’m not nervous about it. I am looking forward to it – it’s just going to be one of these things that will be a little bit strange to start off with. But as soon as it kicks off, it’s just another game, isn’t it?”
With a dozen caps to his name now, the latest having come against Argentina in June, Hidalgo-Clyne went into this season hoping that, like so many of his former team-mates, he would be involved with Scotland in the Autumn Tests. Instead, national coach Gregor Townsend has gone with Ali Price and George Horne as his scrum-halves for Saturday’s game against Wales, while Greig Laidlaw and Henry Pyrgos will also feature in the forthcoming three home games. While disappointed to be left out, the Scarlets No 9 fully understands the reasons, and sees the positive side to staying with the club over the next month.
“Yeah, it’s disappointing, but if I’m honest it was kind of expected. I didn’t play that well on the summer tour, and then lack of game time at the start of the season has been a factor. If you’re not playing, not getting game time, you’re not going to get picked.
“Henry has been playing pretty much 80 minutes every game of the season, so he deserves his chance. They were always going to pick Greig for his leadership skills, and Ali and George had a decent summer.
“I’m not really too focused on that at the moment – it’s more coming down here, getting a fresh start and doing well down here before looking to Scotland.
“Gregor did call me. To be honest, he didn’t say a huge amount – he just said I wasn’t involved and I said that’s fine. I’ll keep working hard, and keep doing the things he asked me to do in the summer, and try to get as much game time as possible. Try and get back in for the Six Nations or the World Cup.
“It’s no bad thing. It means I get an opportunity to play consistently for Scarlets, and be around the family.”