Edinburgh's Damien Hoyland aims tomake his mark for Scotland

If the last Glasgow/Edinburgh match of the season was effectively a Scottish trial, then one man impressed the watching jury more than most. These inter-city derbies usually generate a lot more heat than light, with few memorable moments '“ although there was one such at the tail end of the 1872 Cup.
Quick to grab his chance: Damien Hoyland has proved he can take any opportunity that comes his way, and now he wants to take a big step on the road to becoming a Scotland regular. Photograph: Ross Parker/SNSQuick to grab his chance: Damien Hoyland has proved he can take any opportunity that comes his way, and now he wants to take a big step on the road to becoming a Scotland regular. Photograph: Ross Parker/SNS
Quick to grab his chance: Damien Hoyland has proved he can take any opportunity that comes his way, and now he wants to take a big step on the road to becoming a Scotland regular. Photograph: Ross Parker/SNS

With a four-point advantage in the game but behind on aggregate, and with the clock winding down, Edinburgh went in search of one last nail to hammer into Glasgow’s coffin. When Damien Hoyland received the ball on the right hand the Glasgow fans in the south stand saw little to worry them.

The winger spun out of Stuart Hogg’s challenge and stepped off his right leg to wrong-foot three defenders and his strength carried a couple of them over the line.

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It was typical Hoyland who is a little like England’s Jack Nowell, not exactly short of pace but it is the combination of speed and upper body strength that allows him to make more yards than someone his size should.

Hoyland already has two caps to his name, coming off the bench in a World Cup warm-up in Turin before earning his first start in Japan last June. The absence of Tommy Seymour on Lions’ duty and Sean Maitland, out injured, puts the Edinburgh winger in pole position to add to those two caps on this summer’s tour, as he acknowledges.

“It’s a massive opportunity. That is one week [training] down and I have two more weeks to try and impress Gregor [Townsend] and the coaches as much as possible to try and get a starting jersey in the Italy game and to push on and play as much as possible.

“Tommy Seymour is right at the top, guaranteed a strip [start] and I am fighting to be that other starting winger. That is the goal I have got and I am going to keep fighting until it happens and this is a big opportunity I’ve got.”

Hoyland has done well for someone who came to the sport relatively late. He attended James Gillespie’s High School, one year below the Olympic track cycling medalist Callum Skinner, whom he knew but was never pally with, and the school didn’t run a rugby programme.

Instead Hoyland grew up on a skateboard, only turning to rugby after an ugly accident put paid to any plans to become the next Tony Hawk.

“I used to be quite good at skateboarding when I was quite young,” says the winger, “but I broke my ankle being a lunatic jumping off the steps at the Sheraton Hotel when I was about 13. I tried to get back into skateboarding but I never could, I was too scared about my ankle.

“I was 14 or 15 and my older brother played a bit of rugby, my dad played rugby in the past, and I went to go and watch my brother play a game for Stew-Mel thirds, or something like that, and I loved it when I watched . So I went to a training session at Boroughmuir High School, because Gillespie’s never had a rugby team, and I just fell in love with it from there.”

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Hoyland insists that he was small and slow at school but his physique responded well to training. No one runs around him these days and not many run over him either after working hard on his defence, the weak link in his armoury, just like the club he plays for.

After coming to the sport late, Hoyland perhaps needed a little hot-housing in rugby skills and he got just that during one elongated season with the Scotland sevens squad.

He was lucky in two ways. Firstly, Edinburgh’s ultra-conservative South African coach Alan Solomons had no use for him in his debut 2014-15 season and encouraged him to try for the Scotland sevens squad. Secondly, his sevens debut coincided with the appointment of coach Callum McRae who dragged the Scotland sevens out of the gutter to claim a third place, a second and even one tournament win, last year at Twickenham.

It remains one of Hoyland’s most treasured moments – not many of Edinburgh’s players have got to lift a trophy other than the 1872 Cup and the winger played his part in that London victory. Even before that piece of history, Hoyland had utilised the short format to announce his arrival on the world stage, scoring seven tries and earning a place in the tournament Dream Team at the Wellington sevens in 2015.

“Sevens has been a massive help to me so far and a big thanks to Callum McRae, the sevens coach who helped me a lot with all the little things, he was very pernickety about every detail,” said Hoyland.

Presumably McRae will bring that pernickety attitude to Edinburgh Rugby next season when the current sevens coach becomes assistant to former Leicester boss Richard Cockerill.

For now Hoyland is focused on that first goal, a place in the starting XV against Italy in Singapore come 10 June, and he will be painfully aware what happens to players who fail to grasp the opportunities that are afforded them. Alongside him in this Scotland squad is Lee Jones who was once the coming man, playing all four of the Six Nations matches in 2012, before dropping off the international radar.

Jones is an infinitely better player now than he was when first capped five years ago and further competition comes from another much-improved winger, Glasgow’s Rory Hughes, whistled up as one of two replacements for Maitland.

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“It’s not just me. [There’s] Lee Jones, Rory Hughes and Tim Visser, so it’s not like it’s going to be easy,” says Hoyland name-checking his main rivals. “We’re all fighting for a starting place. It’s good because a competitive environment is one that makes you better so it’s down to whoever performs better in that competitive environment will get a strip.

“It’s great because no-one is guaranteed a starting place yet and we’re all fighting to try and impress the coaches. Whoever gets the opportunity has to grab it with both hands, but I feel I’m ready.”