CAPE TOWN - I wouldn’t blame you for thinking that try-creating offload against the Chiefs was the highlight of Dillyn Leyds’ Super Rugby season. After all, it was simply spectacular.
But actually, the Stormers’ season-opening win against the Bulls was the highlight of his season. And now the talented utility back has achieved a milestone that outshines the victorious moment over their old foes at Newlands and even that offload: his Springbok call-up.
And who can say he doesn’t deserve it?
You see, Leyds had some lost time to make up for this season. And he made up for that lost time in a resounding way.
Against the Jaguares in Buenos Aires early last season, Leyds sustained a knee injury that kept him out for the entire season. But when he made his comeback against the Bulls in February, he announced his return with standout performances. And he didn’t just do it once.
He was at his absolute best week in and week out during the first six rounds, and even when asked to take charge of the vital No 10 jersey, he has kept his composure.
But before Leyds’ quite eventful season took off, there was that first game against the Bulls, which he describes as his highlight, and the former Ikey Tiger added that the Newlands faithful certainly made the occasion even more special.
“The first game against the Bulls (was the highlight). I’d obviously come back after a big injury and I thought I’d done quite well during the pre-season, so just to be back at Newlands for that first game was great. And the packed stadium and the way we played as well,” Leyds said.
“We put a lot of emphasis on our conditioning and our skills during the pre-season, so to get a result like that is one of the biggest highlights for me up until now.”
Like I said, Leyds’ offload to fullback SP Marais in their big win over the Chiefs was great, so I guess the fact that he couldn’t share exactly what went through his head is completely understandable.
But he shared enough when he said that “wow” was the first thought that came to mind. And what a “wow” moment it was.
“Just ‘wow’ I don’t think I can sum it up,” a smiling Leyds said.
“But when I threw the ball I saw the catch, but I didn’t really look at him because I knew he was going to score as he only had like 20-metres to run. So I was quite pumped up and I ran towards the crowd. Nine times out of 10 when you do something like that it doesn’t work, and that did.”
This season’s other wow moment for the 24-year-old was of course his call-up in Allister Coetzee’s 31-man Springbok squad for the Test series against France, and although the Bishops product had been invited to two of the three Bok training camps already, he says that his call-up was an unexpected honour.
“To get that first cap would be a massive honour and a great achievement. Last week I had dinner with my family and they were so happy for me. That was a special moment for me. When I got home and I greeted my dad he struggled to get his words out and we both just started crying,” Leyds said.
“On Tuesday it was all I could think about. I didn’t know what should happen, I didn’t know how to feel.”
Another thing that has pleased Leyds this season was the new attacking path that Stormers coach Robbie Fleck has taken the team on, and for Leyds the biggest positive has not only been the way they play, but the fact that they have fun while doing so.
“The word ‘joy’ pretty much sums it up. We’re enjoying what we’re doing. For years there’s been a big emphasis put on the Stormers’ defence, and we’re working hard and trying different things on defence as well as on attack. But I think the big thing is we’ve just tried to bring fun and enjoyment into our game,” Leyds said.
“For example on Thursdays we have like a five or 10-minute NFL game against each other. So it’s just about learning and having fun. So that’s one of the great things – we started enjoying ourselves on the field.”
So given the fact that flyhalf was his preferred position when he was younger, one would think that the 2012 Junior World Championship-winner would quickly pull up a poster of a legendary (or popular) pivot when asked about his idol. But nope, not Leyds.
Okay, to be fair, he did mention that he went through a Quade Cooper phase. But it was former Springbok centre Jean de Villiers who stood out amongst the Bok crop to become his childhood idol.
“When I was still playing flyhalf my friends used to joke about it with me because I used to do everything Quade Cooper used to do. But in saying that – if we had to talk about South African players – I would say Jean de Villiers,” he said.
Leyds also recalled a special piece of advice that the former Bok captain shared with him as he was getting ready to run out at flyhalf against the Blues.
“I’ve never played with him, I’ve only been on the training field with him, but watching him play he’s an unbelievable person. For example before the game against the Blues, as I was coming off the field to come back in and change for our warm-up, he stopped me and said ‘good luck, and enjoy it. Don’t forget you’re playing rugby. Don’t worry too much about the number on your back’,” Leyds said.
And now, going into the series against France, Leyds has an opportunity to not only gain some valuable Test experience, but also to lay the foundation for what could become another inspiring Bok career. Just like his idol De Villiers.