Sometimes you learn as much from not playing as you do from being out there in the thick of things. Damien Hoyland, for one, is convinced that he has learned valuable lessons from the times when he has been sidelined from rugby – and unfortunately for the Edinburgh player, those spells have been lengthy.
After winning his first Scotland cap five years ago at the age of 21, Hoyland’s progress was stalled by injuries which ruled him out for much of 2017 and almost all of 2018. However, the back-three player’s career is now firmly back on track, and the new contract he signed with Edinburgh earlier this week is testament to his powers of recovery – powers that are mental as well as physical, as he believes he is now more mature and composed off the field as well as on.
“I’ve had a couple of pretty difficult years injury-wise, but that’s kind of done with, I’ve managed to flush that,” the 26-year-old said. “I’ve learned a lot from it, and probably the main thing I’ve learned is how to switch off outside of rugby, which I think has helped me a lot the last year or so.
“I’m happy, fingers crossed, to put all of my injury troubles behind me so that I can just crack on. We’ve got an amazing rehab team here and I feel physically probably better than I did before I got injured.”
Especially when a foot injury kept him inactive for nearly 12 months up to last February, Hoyland had to face the inevitable fears that his coaches would deem him surplus to requirements. But he learned to deal with those fears and, after he was given a one-year extension to his contract for this season, his new two-year deal has emphasised his increasing importance as a squad member who is now just at home at full-back as he is on the wing.
“Again, that’s something that I learned a lot about when I was injured,” he continued. “You have to take things day by day, because if you look too far into the future and you worry about things, you get that in your head and you forget about the task at hand, which is getting back to be fully fit.
“I actually managed to switch that side of things off, and just focused on getting my rehab being my main priority. Then I ended up coming back a bit quicker, I played a few games and now I’ve managed to re-sign off the back of it. It’s something I probably didn’t think about too much, because I knew that if I did then I wouldn’t be focusing on what was more important.
“It’s nice to have that all sorted, that I don’t have to think about it anymore and can just focus on rugby. Just delighted to be staying at the club. And for another two years as well, which is good. I’m just excited to see what this group of guys can do, and achieve moving forward.”
A coffee business he runs with club captain Stuart McInally is one way in which Hoyland switches off from the rigours of rugby, while a university course in business and enterprise in sport also provides a contrast – albeit a more mentally demanding one. “It’s something that Edinburgh Napier do for guys that are fortunate enough to be elite athletes, and it’s exactly for that purpose – to switch off and do something else outside of rugby.
“It’s been fine. It’s work. It is [challenging sometimes]. Say we get a day off, the easy thing to do is have a lie in, go to have breakfast, then go for a coffee and maybe go back to have a nap. You can switch off doing that, which is fine, but sometimes it’s difficult to motivate yourself to do other things that require a bit more work. I think a lot of my stuff with uni has been leaving it last minute – which I’m trying to educate myself not to do.”
Hoyland’s team-mates Magnus Bradbury and Blair Kinghorn are on the same course, but word is that he is getting the best grades of the three – a suggestion he did not attempt to deny. “Oh yeah,” he added. “They’re on a different planet. So I’m thankfully not with them.”